Two days after TNM reported on the Comptroller and Auditor General's grave allegations against the Isha foundation, the organisation has said that it received a permission for its constructions from the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) in 2017. This however falls in line with the CAG's allegation that Isha sought ex-post factor approval for buildings constructed in Booluvapatti village in Coimbatore district between 2005 and 2008.
The CAG's report on the Economic Sector for the year ended on March 2017, questioned the Forest Department for allowing construction in a protected forest area known for its elephant corridor without permission from HACA. The Isha foundation, according to the CAG, had constructed various buildings in an area of 32,856 sq ft in the village with the permission of the village panchayat from 1994 to 2008. But the construction between 2005 and 2008 was carried on without obtaining a No Objection Certificate from HACA, whose duty is to ensure that development on hills is ecologically acceptable.
Three years after the construction, in October 2011, Isha requested the Forest Department to issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) and ex-post factor approval, alleged CAG.
According to the CAG report, 'the Foundation continued construction in the area despite issue of notices by the Forest department in February and April 2012 on the plea that the buildings were in protected area of Booluvapatti reserve forest range, known for elephant habitat/corridor. The request for NOC was returned (February 2013) by Forest department and thereafter no follow up action was initiated to stop further construction.'
The CAG alleged that the approval of HACA was pending as of July 2017.
Isha foundation has said in a statement that the approval did indeed come in 2017 but before July.
"We affirm that Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) has given clearance to all the buildings built by Isha Foundation at 58th HACA meeting, well before July 2017, after considering all the NOCs given by the concerned government departments," says Rahul Dubey, the foundation's spokesperson.
In its statement, Isha also stuck to its claim that there is no elephant corridor in the region of its constructions.
"It is a futile attempt to establish an elephant corridor where there is none. Officials from the Tamil Nadu Forest Department have verified that Isha Yoga Centre buildings are not constructed on an elephant corridor. Several reports and observations by Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Government of India; the Wildlife Trust of India and International Union for Conservation of Nature and scientists working in the field of Elephant conservation clearly state that Isha Foundation is not anywhere close to an elephant corridor," says Rahul.
Isha also said that it has not occupied ant forest or tribal land an called such allegations 'pulp fiction'. "Isha Yoga Center hereby categorically states that it has not occupied any forest, tribal or any other sort of land. Isha Yoga Center is not constructed on forest land. It is constructed on 100% Patta land owned by Isha Foundation. In 2013, Tamil Nadu Forest Department officials verified this, and clearly documented that the Center is absolutely on Patta land and has not infringed onto forest land. The document reference number is CFCIT/07/2013. Instead of wild accusations, it's best that an appropriate agency probes this matter thoroughly."
But when TNM contacted the then Principal Chief Conservator of Forests P C Tyagi, he said that he was not sure if HACA approval had come through. He however confirmed that he had passed on the report seeking HACA clearance to the Housing Secretary only in July 2017. He claimed he was unaware of its current status and that it was placed before a HACA committee.