Recently, two parents filed a petition at a district collectorate in Tamil Nadu seeking help alleging that their children, two adult women, had been 'abducted' and kept within the premises of the Isha Yoga centre in Coimbatore. Both the women and the spiritual organization have denied it.
But this is not the only controversy which has put the Isha Yoga centre in the dock.
Project GreenHands, an arm of the Isha Foundation, works with a mission of “increasing the green cover of Tamil Nadu by 10 per cent” and the aim of “developing a culture of care towards the environment”. Ironically, the Foundation's mainstay, the Isha Yoga Center near Coimbatore always seems to be in the eye of the storm for environmental violation.
Though popular as a spiritual-yoga-meditation destination for people from India and abroad who revere its founder Jaggi Vasudev as their guru, this high-end address of spiritualism remains an eyesore for environmentalists and informed locals.
It is well known that there have been several allegations over the years by locals, public, environmentalists and even political leaders about buildings being constructed on forest land and encroaching on the elephant corridor. The Center representatives have almost always claimed that the buildings had approval and those that did not have were awaiting the same.
The Center is located at the foot of the Velliangiri Hills in the Western Ghats, some 30 km from Coimbatore. Environmentalists claim that it sits on several thousands of forest land and is also bang in the middle of the elephant corridor and is in violation of norms laid down by Tamil Nadu's Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) and Directorate of Town and Country Planning. This, they point out has only added to the injuries and deaths of elephants.
Locals say that till 15 years ago elephants and humans used to co-exist in the foothills of the Western Ghats in the Coimbatore region because the elephant corridor was free to them. Once the corridor was encroached upon and measures like high walls and electric fences put up to keep them away they started encroaching on human habitation that have led to gruesome deaths of both man and animal.
According to K. Kalidasan, President of Osai, an environmental organisation in Coimbatore, the violations and irregularities have been a cause of serious concern and had been taken up by several Members of Parliament and ministers on the floor of the Assembly many a time. “But nothing seems to be moving. The Center claims that permission have been applied for but approvals were getting delayed”.
According to advocate M. Radhakrishnan, appearing for Chennai-based environmental activist M. Vetriselvan, an advocate himself and member of Chennai-based environmental organisation ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal, in the Madras High Court, the buildings constructed on nearly 44,000 sq ft in violation of HACA “can be demolished even today if the State Government wished to do so”.
It may be recalled that there is a demolition notice issued in 2013, which is yet to be implemented by the State Government. Mr. Vetriselvan had filed a PIL the same year urging the Madras High court to make the State Government act upon the demolition notice.
“Isha Yoga Center filed a review petition against the demolition notice, which is still pending. The State Government is citing this as an excuse for not going ahead with the demolition. The review has no bearing on the notice and the demolition can begin any day as there is no stay order. The implementation is significant in that it does not only direct Isha to demolish the irregular buildings, but also to restore the encroached land to its original condition,” says the advocate.
Following the first PIL, three more have been filed impressing upon the same demand, asking TANGEDCO to stop providing electricity to the unapproved buildings, to close the school that operates from one of its premises, and also initiate action against those officials who have not acted upon the demolition notice.
As the petitioner awaits the final hearing, which purportedly is expected to be held after six or seven months, there are more buildings coming up with not only HACA but also construction violations.