Karnataka Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniwas Oka stated that the state government “should not be influenced by the fact that influential people are involved in this project”.

HC asks Karnataka govt to clarify whose project is Cauvery Calling
news Court Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 17:06

The Karnataka High Court once again pulled up the 'Cauvery Calling' campaign launched by Isha Foundation questioning who will be leading the campaign in Karnataka – Isha Foundation, or the Karnataka government.

Karnataka Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka asked the counsel representing the Karnataka government to explain who was implementing the agroforestry campaign.

“The state (government) has said that after receiving a project report from Isha Foundation, it had forwarded it to the state forest department following which the project was allowed. The state government has to explain if it is driving the project and how it has allowed Isha Foundation to claim it is their project,” Abhay Shreeniwas Oka stated. 

He further stated that the state government “should not be influenced by the fact that influential people are involved in this project". He also asked whether the state government will place on record that Isha Foundation will not collect funds in the name of ‘Cauvery Calling’ or whether the state government will issue a notification stating the same. 

The High Court judge was referring to an affidavit filed by the Karnataka government stating that a detailed project report for ‘Cauvery Calling’ prepared by the Isha Foundation was sent to the Karnataka Forest Department in April 2019. The state government promised that funds will be allocated in the budget and that the project will be implemented as part of a government scheme of the forest department – Krishi Aranya Protsaha Yojane (KAPY) 

The High Court gave the state government and the Isha Foundation three weeks to submit objections and posted the next hearing for July 3. The High Court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the Karnataka government for supporting ‘Cauvery Calling’. The PIL was filed by advocate AV Amarnath. 

Isha Foundation headed by Jaggi Vasudev flagged off ‘Cauvery Calling’, a nationwide agroforestry project focused on the Cauvery river in September 2019. Since then, the foundation, which enjoys the patronage of celebrities, industrialists and politicians, has collected enough money to plant more than 5 crore trees through contributions from the public. 

The petitioner had also questioned the funds collected by Isha Foundation over the project and sought that Rs 82.5 crore, a figure mentioned in one of the affidavits submitted in court, should be deposited with the Karnataka government. “I had sought in an application to the High Court for the funds collected in the project to be deposited to the state government. The High Court has now asked for detailed objections from the state government confirming whether they are accepting Isha Foundation’s proposal or they are implementing the project through the state forest department. The state government has to explain the terms and conditions of the project,” AV Amarnath, the petitioner told TNM.

In Karnataka, where a part of the project will be implemented, there is still no clarity over whether the Karnataka government or Isha Foundation is implementing the project. Even though the detailed project report for Cauvery Calling was submitted to the Karnataka government by Isha Foundation, it has since submitted to the High Court in March that its social development branch Isha Outreach was dealing with Cauvery Calling. 

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa took part in an event inaugurating Cauvery Calling in Bengaluru’s Palace Grounds in September 2019. Speaking at the event, he said that the forest department in the state would set aside two crore saplings for Cauvery Calling. However, in an affidavit submitted to the High Court stated that Cauvery Calling was contributing to the KAPY scheme. The affidavit makes no mention of the two crore saplings that Isha can use. 

Read: What is Karnataka govt’s role in Cauvery Calling? Conflicting stands in and outside court

Responding to TNM, a member of Isha Foundation’s media relations team stated that there are two components to the ‘Cauvery Calling’ project, one in which Isha Outreach handles all aspects and another in which Isha works in concert with the government. In Karnataka’s case, "The state government produces the saplings and leverages existing government schemes meant to incentivise the farmers to plant trees on their own lands," a statement by Isha Foundation said. It also went on to add that Isha Outreach is not receiving a single sapling and that the saplings will be given directly to the farmers under the state government’s scheme. 

This is not the first time the High Court is questioning the collection of funds for ‘Cauvery Calling’. Earlier, the High Court had pointed out that even spiritual organisations are bound by the law.

Read: Spiritual organisation not above law: HC to Isha Foundation on Cauvery Calling case

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