Cauvery Calling, a campaign by Isha Foundation that has proposed to plant 242 crore trees along the entire length of the Cauvery river bed, cannot possibly achieve its aim of revitalising the river with its unscientific approach, said experts and activists at a seminar organised by the Asian College of Journalism and the Coalition for Environmental Justice in Chennai on Saturday.
“The main reason that agroforestry would not work for a campaign like this is because biomes behave differently in varied environments and sometimes could potentially obstruct the flow of the river,” said Shrinivas Badiger, Fellow at Ashoka Trust for Research and Ecology.
“Planting trees would be of no use unless destructive activities near the river or catchment area are stopped,” Mihir Shah, Chair in Committee to draft National Water Policy said.
As groundwater is already scarce and contaminated, unregulated activities like extracting minerals and crude oil would certainly make the situation worse, opined G Sundarajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental organisation based out of Tamil Nadu. He added that in addition to these, carrying out hydrocarbon projects are detrimental to bringing back the glory of Cauvery.
His fellow panelist, Piyush Manush, a conservationist from Salem district, pointed out that the mining lobbies only get stronger by the day, unless people voice out against them.
The effect of Jaggi Vasudev’s simple, seemingly logical solutions and the cultural significance of the Isha Foundation may limit people from looking past a Rs 42 donation, but it is important to trace the trail and ensure that the money reaches the cause, said activist Nityanand Jayaram. He reasoned that his skepticism in engaging with Cauvery Calling arose from the lack of accountability and verifiability, especially when a huge sum of almost Rs 10,000 crore is involved. When Jayaram raised issues with the Isha Foundation and Rally for Rivers about the exact figures of some aspects of the project, no explanatory response was given, he said.
Going beyond just questioning the credibility of the movement, Henri Tiphagne of People’s Watch, Madurai, hinted at the need to question the governance and judiciary in upholding people’s interests.
Several panelists in the seminar agreed that the idea of planting trees per se is not wrong, but the reason for which it’s done is important to take note of, and a highly influential project of such magnitude must be scientifically backed up and transparent.