Veteran journalist and the Chairman of The Hindu's board of Directors, N Ram on Saturday described Jaggi Vasudev's Cauvery Calling initiative as a campaign with 'shifting goal posts'. He made the observation after a day- long event in Chennai in which several experts did a careful scrutiny of this project.
Cauvery Calling is a nation-wide campaign focused on the Cauvery river and under the campaign, the Isha Foundation headed by Jaggi Vasudev aims to plant 242 crore trees along farmlands near the water body. This will be done under the umbrella of the Rally for Rivers, a campaign launched by the same foundation earlier. The project aimed at a budget of Rs.11,000 crore has called for people to donate Rs 42 per tree, therefore raising questions regarding its objective and end goal.
On Saturday, the Asian College of Journalism organised a day long seminar titled 'Interrogating Cauvery Calling' where various aspects of this campaign were discussed.
And in a final session, wrapping up the points offered by multiple environmentalists and experts, N Ram pointed that Jaggi Vasudev has constantly shifted ground as far as Cauvery Calling is concerned. He pointed out that the program that was initially presented as an ecological project was now being touted as an economic one.
"Mr. Jaggi Vasudev said that it is on farm lands that the trees will be planted. And he also spoke about compensating farmers for the loss of their regular crops through tree planting and made it abundantly clear that it is not an ecological project but an economic project with ecological consequences. The goal post keeps shifting all the time," pointed out N Ram.
He further elaborated on a point made by environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman and asked, "What is Cauvery calling? What is the text? Is it verifiable? There is no such text. Because it keeps changing all the time."
He pointed that entire project was 'slippery' and that questions put forth in the sessions by academic experts need to answered.
"A monocultural approach is the wrong thing to do and it is unscientific. If the diagnosis is wrong and unscientific, whatever is going to flow from it is going to be doubly flawed and dangerous," he warned.
And finally addressing the financial aspect of the campaign, he demaded more transparency in the manner in which the management is being carred out.
"Now a very serious issue that must cause concern is the raising of public interest and public money for this project. Truly mega, in terms of money involved - 242 crore trees, 11,000 crore rupees. That is the kind of money involved. Only 0.5% collected. There is still time to put checks on this and prevent this from going further," he said. "What is the management of this money? Who oversees it? There is no transparency, no verifiable document, no clear management structure for huge amount targeted. It is a matter of great concern."
N Ram also said that various state governments and the central government that endorses the project should also be questioned. "As a political journalist, this is the question that occurs to me. Who gave the Isha Foundation the right, the jurisdiction to transgress on what should be the commons. And why are governments being subservient to this idea? Apart from the risks, probable negative outcomes and over simplification of solutions for Cauvery, this is what is worrying," he concluded.