The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking directions to Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Outreach Foundation to not collect funds from the public for the Cauvery Calling project, Live Law reported.
Launched in July 2019, the Isha Foundation had said that the initiative was aimed at supporting farmers to plant 242 crore trees along the Cauvery river basin.
Advocate AV Amarnathan had filed a petition against the initiative, according to Bar and Bench. He had submitted the government was allowing a private organisation to use its land for planting saplings without studying the impact of the project.
However in October, the court removed him as a petitioner after he sent an email to the Discovery Channel threatening to file a contempt case if the television channel aired a programme on the Cauvery Calling project.
The court then turned the petition into a suo motu one.
On Tuesday, a division bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum noted the need for afforestation and appreciated the Isha Outreach Foundation’s efforts towards the cause.
“Planting trees on a barren land is not a crime,” the court observed. “In case, such a view is taken that planting trees on government land is prohibited, it will create havoc and a large number of plantations which are going on government land by NGO [non-government organisations] without any motive will come to a stand still.”
The High Court also noted that the Karnataka government had stated that Cauvery Calling was not its project and that Vasudev’s organisation was not planting saplings on government land.
“Hence the question of interference by this court in a ‘noble project’ like Cauvery Calling does not arise,” the court said.
In previous hearings of the case, Senior Advocate Uday Holla, representing the Isha Outreach Foundation, had argued that any initiative for planting trees should be welcomed. On the matter of raising funds from the public, Holla had said that the organisation was a public charitable trust which declared its accounts every year.
His arguments came after the High Court, in January 2020, had asked Isha Outreach Foundation under what authority it was collecting money from farmers. “Where is the affidavit stating that you have not forced people to pay money?” a bench headed by the then Chief Justice Abhay Oka had asked.
In September 2019, the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India has said that while planting trees was welcome, appropriate ones should be planted and only where they were needed. “It is a process that is best done consultatively, based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics,” it had said.
The group had also raised questions about Isha Outreach Foundation’s credibility in conforming with laws protecting human rights and environment.
“No less an authority than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a constitutional body, has reported that the foundation has built its headquarters into an elephant corridor and on land belonging to Adivasis,” the group had said.