The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday asked Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation to disclose how much money it has collected for its Cauvery Calling campaign, Live Law reported. The bench, led by Chief Justice Abhay Oka, was hearing a petition filed against the foundation for collecting money from farmers to fund the initiative.
“If someone is creating awareness of rejuvenation activity, it is most welcome but not by forcibly collecting funds,” the court said. “Under what authority are you collecting money from farmers? Where is the affidavit stating that you have not forced people to pay money?”
The plea, filed by lawyer AV Amarnathan, sought directions from the court to the Isha Foundation not to gather funds from the public for the initiative. The court also rapped the state government for not conducting an independent investigation following complaints on forcible fund collection.
“When a citizen complains to you [the state authorities] that funds are being collected in the name of the state, is it not the responsibility of state to inquire?” said Chief Justice Oka. The court noted that even spiritual matters were bound by law, adding that the organisation should not be under the impression that it was exempt from it because it was a not-for-profit organisation.
“You are not authorised by the state or the central government to take money,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench. “Under what authority are you collecting money from farmers? You are not a registered society. Who has constituted it and under what law?” The bench listed the matter for further hearing on February 12.
The petition has alleged that the Vasudev’s Isha Foundation had been planting saplings on government property and raising money for it from the public. The petitioner questioned how the land could be used by a private organisation without reviewing the pros and cons of the initiative. The plea asserted that collecting money from people was disturbing as the organisation was expected to raise Rs 10,626 crore as donation.
Vasudev had announced the launch of the campaign in July. “The movement will support lakhs of farmers in the Cauvery basin to plant 242 crore trees in an economic plan that is expected to revive not just the river but the fortunes of farmers in the basin as well,” the foundation had said.
In September last year, the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India said planting trees is welcome, but appropriate ones should be planted, only where needed. “It is a process that is best done consultatively, based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics,” it said. “Needless to add, tree planting is only one of the many many activities that are needed to rejuvenate the river; and tree planting alone won’t achieve the critical task of saving Cauvery.”
The collective added that there was an urgent need to stop the “mindless destruction of forests and watersheds” which is taking place in the name of development.
The group had also raised questions about Isha 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 said.