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Chorus grows louder against Modi’s visit to Isha Foundation event in Coimbatore

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-02-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Coimbatore to unveil a 112-feet-tall Shiva idol at the Isha Foundation on Friday, activists and environmental groups urged him not to participate in the event as the foundation has been accused of violating building construction rules, affecting the biodiversity of the region, which is an elephant corridor.

The foundation, however, has maintained that it has got all necessary permissions.

The unveiling of the idol coincides with Mahashivratri on Friday.

Retired Madras high court judge D. Hariparanthaman told reporters on Wednesday, “The Isha Foundation has over 13 lakh sq. feet of illegal constructions and the visit by the prime minister may interfere with the administration of justice.”

He said the opposition is not because of the religious event to be held on Mahashivratri, but due to the “violation of the building norms” and the apprehension that the Prime Minister’s visit will “legitimize the actions of the organization”.

Environmentalists claim that the construction will impact wild animals in the area.

The Isha Foundation, founded by yoga guru Jaggi Vasudev, has been in the midst of the controversy for over five years and has even received demolition notices from the state government in the past.

While a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras HC filed by the Velliangiri Hill Tribal Protection Society had sought to demolish the unauthorised construction, an 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, as pointed out by the district forest officer, Coimbatore.

In 2013, the Town and Country Planning department had mentioned in the HC that the extent of illegal construction is 13 lakh sq. ft. While a “stop-work” notice was issued in November 2012, a “lock and seal and demolition notice” was also served in December 2012.

Similarly, notices have been served by the Town and Country Planning department to several educational institutions and other buildings since 2012 in Coimbatore—surrounded by the Western ghats—as they violated the Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA) norms.

While the higher education authority withdrew its approval to Indus College of Engineering at Alandurai, as it had encroached the elephant corridor, many others educational institutes continue to function despite the orders, allege environmentalists.

Isha Foundation, meanwhile, said it had got all the necessary permissions. “We have got all the necessary permissions from the authorized 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.

A blog post by the Isha Foundation said, “The accusations laid down in the petitions filed against Isha Foundation in the Madras High Court are frivolous and a compilation of twisted allegations.”

The statement which mentioned that Isha Foundation had approvals from necessary authorities, including the Coimbatore district collector, the forest department and BSNL, added: “A no objection certificate from the district collector, Coimbatore for using wetlands for non-agricultural purposes has also been obtained. So the question of violation does not even arise.”

With tribal associations and others in Coimbatore having planned demonstrations and protests in the city on Friday, security arrangements have been beefed up ahead of Modi’s visit and traffic regulations are already in place.

Modi will arrive at the Sulur Air Base on Friday evening, then leave for the Isha centre in a chopper to land at the helipad near the foundation, said a senior police official from Coimbatore, who is in charge of security arrangements

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