Nearly six years after a tribal body’s petition, the Madras High Court has sought an inquiry into whether Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation had the necessary permissions to carry out certain constructions on its campus in Coimbatore. The court has also told the district town and country planning department to take appropriate action if illegalities are found.
Newslaundry had earlier carried a on Sadhguru’s empire and how the Isha Foundation’s 150-acre campus in Ikkarai Boluvampatti in Coimbatore, including a 112-foot Adiyogi statue, had come up in blatant violation of rules and norms.
In 2021, when Newslaundry met the petitioner P Muthammal, the 51-year-old president of the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society, she had said that she had been harassed for filing the petition in 2017. Muthammal had also said that she was forced to leave her home at Muttathu Ayal settlement in Ikkarai Boluvampatti after objecting to construction work carried out by the Isha Foundation in the foothills of Velliangiri.
The Madras High Court issued the directions on August 18.
Muthammal told Newslaundry that now it is the “government’s job to take action”. “The government should remove the illegal constructions and make sure no further harm should come to the forest, wildlife and the tribal people.”
‘No record of any NOC’
The Madras High Court took note of the status report filed by Thiru R Rajaguru, the joint director of town and country planning – it was placed on record by special government pleader R Anitha during the hearing last week. The report said that the Isha Foundation neither sought permission nor obtained a no-objection certificate for the construction. A bench of Chief Justice S V Gangapurwala and Justice P D Audikesavulu then ordered an inquiry.
The report mentioned construction on 20.805 hectares of land, including 15.53 acres of Nanjai land, or wetland, and 5.275 hectares of Punjai, or dry land. “No record has been found in this office regarding collector NOC, pollution control board NOC, hill area conservation authority NOC, fire department NOC etc. On verifying with Ikkarai Boluvampatti panchayat, it is submitted that no permission has been issued by the panchayat president. It is submitted that no permission has been issued by the collector NOC for religious building.”
The court said, “The joint director, district town and country planning, shall consider the documents that may be placed by the petitioner and Isha Foundation and shall verify about the permission in force, and if the same is not in order, shall take further steps expeditiously with regard to the building that may not be constructed in accordance with the plan and no objection certificate.”
M Purshothaman, the lawyer representing the Velliangiri Hills Tribal Protection Society, said, “According to the 2010 Gajah report (elephant task committee report), the Ikkarai Boluvampatti was an elephant habitat. People confuse it with the corridor but it’s a habitat and far more serious. It’s also the catchment area of Noyyal river . In this eco-sensitive area they converted the nature of land and carried out construction close to the reserve forest. The concept of a reserve forest is that no construction should happen close to it.”
“It’s mandatory to have the HACA’s permission. They also didn’t take vital NOCs from the forest department. Other than the Adiyogi statue, there are other larger constructions as well, including shops, canteens etc. In 2017, the town and country planning department had filed a status report that no approval had been acquired by Isha. Last week, the status report was filed again. The court took cognisance of it and gave the order.”
Isha had earlier told Newslaundry, “We reiterate unequivocally that all the buildings in the Yoga Center are legal and are not in violation of any laws.”
But a Newslaundry offered documentary proof of Isha accepting that its yoga centre was built in violation of environmental rules.