Maha Shivratri: Protesters urge Modi not to attend Isha Foundation event

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to unveil a 112-foot tall statue of Shiva at the Isha Foundation in Coimbatore, activists and tribal groups have raised the pitch of protests against the Foundation’s “environmental violations”.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2017 15:00 IST
Aditya Iyer
Aditya Iyer
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Adiyogi,Isha Foundation,Jaggi Vasudev
Isha Foundation, founded by spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev, has been embroiled in a controversial legal battle over its compound in Coimbatore since 2012 as it falls in elephant corridor.(HT FILE PHOTO)

Activists have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to preside over the unveiling of the 112-foot tall statue of Shiva at Isha Centre in Coimbatore on Friday over alleged violation of environmental norms by the organisers, Isha Foundation of yoga guru Jaggi Vasudev, which has denied the accusations.

The unveiling ceremony is scheduled to be held at 5:30 pm to mark Maha Shivratri and Modi is expected to arrive at the Isha centre by helicopter after landing at Sulur Air Base.

With tribal associations and others in Coimbatore having planned demonstrations and protests in the city, security and traffic regulations have been beefed up.

On Wednesday, former Madras high court judge D Hariparanthaman had said that the Isha Foundation has over 13 lakh sqft of illegal constructions, and “the visit by the Prime Minister may interfere with the administration of justice”.

He also said the opposition was not because of the religious event, but due to the “violation of the building norms” and the apprehension that the Prime Minister’s visit will “legitimise the actions of the organisation”, a fear endorsed by activists and tribal bodies.

Isha Foundation, however, said vested interests were trying to disrupt the event.

“We have got all the necessary permissions from the authorised people. These are some vested interests who are trying to create a ruckus to disrupt a major event like this,” said a public relations executive from Isha Foundation.

In a statement, it also said that “a no objection certificate from the district collector, Coimbatore, for using wetlands for non-agricultural purposes has also been obtained”, besides approvals from necessary authorities, including the Coimbatore district collector, the forest department and BSNL.

This is not the first time that the ruling Centre has been seen to support an event organised by a spiritual leader accused of environmental violations.

Last March, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar hosted a World Culture Festival on the banks of the Yamuna in New Delhi, which saw senior members of the BJP, including finance minister Arun Jaitley and party president Amit Shah, attending the final day.

The NGT subsequently declared that the event had “completely destroyed” the flood plains of the Yamuna, causing an irreversible loss of the local fauna and flora.

A recent blog by Isha Foundation has said that the accusations in petitions filed in the Madras High Court are “frivolous and a compilation of twisted allegations”.

The Foundation has been embroiled in a controversial legal battle over its compound in Coimbatore since 2012, and has even received demolition notices from the state government in the past.

While a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras HC was filed by the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society, seeking to demolish the unauthorised construction, another application before the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) claimed that it is located in Velliangiri foothills which is a man-animal conflict area.

In 2013, the Town and Country Planning department had specified that the extent of illegal construction is 13 lakh sq ft to the Madras high court. A “stop-work” notice was issued in November 2012, with a “lock and seal and demolition notice” being served shortly after in December 2012.

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 14:50 IST