New Delhi: The Union government on Monday, September 26, told the Madras high court that ‘Sadhguru’ Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation can claim exemption from environmental clearance as an educational institution for the construction it had taken up on its premises in Coimbatore between 2006 and 2014, Bar and Bench reported.
Appearing before a two-judge bench of Acting Chief Justice T. Raja and Justice D. Krishna Kumar, additional solicitor general R. Sankaranarayanan on the Union government’s behalf told that 2014 Environment Protection Amendment Rules granted exemption from such clearance to educational institutes, industrial sheds, and hospitals. He said Isha Foundation could claim such exemption on the grounds of being an “institute that promotes education”, and the purpose of the exemption was to prevent “harassment and to strike a balance”.
In January this year, the Tamil Nadu government had begun prosecution against the Foundation, alleging that it had carried out construction without obtaining clearance as required under the Union government’s Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006. Isha’s campus is spread across 150 acres of lush land at the foothills of the Velliangiri mountains in Coimbatore. This is not the first time the Foundation is facing allegations of flouting the norms pertaining to the environment.
The Foundation had subsequently challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s action, stating that the 2014 Environment Protection Amendment Rules were an extension of the 2006 Rules and were brought in only to underscore that educational institutes, industrial sheds, hostels, hospitals, etc., could avail an exemption from seeking prior environmental clearance.
Deeming the state government’s action “illegal”, the Foundation had said the 2014 amendment granted a “retrospective exemption” to educational institutes. It had also said that it had been carrying out construction on its premises from 1994 onwards, even before the Rules came into being.
Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram, appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, had told earlier that it was for the Union government to clarify its stand on the exemption to the Foundation given that the state government had moved against it.
During Monday’s hearing, the court initially pulled up the Union government on exemptions, but changed its stance towards the end.
“Are educational institutions above the law? You are the one who makes the Rules and then you yourself grant exemptions,” the court said initially, according to Bar and Bench.
However, moments later, Justice T. Raja on the bench said in the absence of such exemption “prestigious institutes such as the Kodaikanal International School and Doon School would not exist”.
“In that case, people living in hilly areas such as Ooty and Kodaikanal would never have had any access to education,” he added.
The matter was posted for further hearing on Wednesday, September 28.