The Government of India has apprised the Madras High Court that Isha Foundation, founded by Jaggi Vasudev, did not need prior environmental clearance for carrying out construction work between 2006 and 2014 at its premises in Coimbatore district.
The Bench of Acting Chief Justice T Raja and Justice D Krishna Kumar were on Monday hearing a petition filed by Jaggi Vasudev, popularly known as Sadhguru, challenging the notice issued by the Tamil Nadu government to the foundation in January this year.
The state government, while taking note of the fact that the foundation had not taken the mandatory environmental clearance under the Union government’s Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 for construction work in the Ashram’s area, had initiated prosecution against it.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan contended that the 2014 Environment Protection Amendment Rules of the Union Government granted exemption from such clearance to educational institutes, industrial sheds and hospitals.
Isha Foundation could claim such exemption on the grounds of being an institute promoting education, added Sankaranarayanan.
The petition by Sadhguru contended that the 2014 Environment Protection Amendment Rules were an extension of the 2006 Rules and were added to clarify that educational institutes, industrial sheds, hostels and hospitals, could avail the exemption.
Terming the Tamil Nadu government’s action as illegal, the plea stated that the 2014 amendment granted retrospective exemption to educational institutes.
The foundation has been carrying out construction work at its premises since 1994, much before the above Rules were introduced, it added.
Earlier, Advocate General of Tamil Nadu R Shunmugasundaram, had argued that while Tamil Nadu had already initiated proceedings against Isha Foundation, it was for the Centre to clarify on the issue of exemption.
The Bench had initially questioned the rationale behind such exemption granted by the Central government, but midway during the hearing, it changed its mind.
Justice Raja said that if such exemption was not granted to educational institutes, then prestigious institutes such as the Kodaikanal International School and Doon School would not have existed.
ASG Sankaranarayanan seconded Justice Raja and said the purpose of exemption was to prevent ‘harassment’ and strike a balance.
Senior Advocate Satish Parasaran, representing Isha Foundation, stated that Isha was a volunteer-run registered public charitable trust, founded in 1992. It said it had set up the Isha Yoga Centre in over 48.3 hectares of Velliangiri hills at Coimbatore district in 1994 to run a group of educational institutions.
He further said that a variety of courses on yoga, classical arts and Sanskrit were taught through a Gurukul format in the trust. The foundation also began imparting English-medium education, affiliated to the ICSE Board, added the lawyer.
The next hearing in the case will be on September 28.
Case title: Isha Foundation vs Union of India and Others