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Karnataka High Court Reserves Judgment In Plea Against Public Fund Collection For 'Cauvery Calling Project'

Mustafa Plumber
2 Sep 2021 4:02 AM GMT
Karnataka High Court Reserves Judgment In Plea Against Public Fund Collection For Cauvery Calling Project
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"Is there any law which restrains a citizen from planting a tree on government land?", the bench asked during the hearing.

The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday reserved its order on a petition filed by advocate A V Amarnathan,which was later taken up as a suo-motu petition, seeking directions to the Isha Outreach foundation to not collect funds from the public for the Cauvery Calling project. A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar...

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The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday reserved its order on a petition filed by advocate A V Amarnathan,which was later taken up as a suo-motu petition, seeking directions to the Isha Outreach foundation to not collect funds from the public for the Cauvery Calling project.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum, during the hearing, orally queried on whether it was restrained to plant trees on government land. The bench asked, "Is there any law which restrains a citizen from planting a tree on government land?".

During the hearing, the court also remarked that "I don't understand one thing that how the plantation being done is harming others."

Senior Advocate Uday Holla appearing for respondent Isha Outreach submitted that,

"Honestly, when trees are being planted and when forest cover has come down in India by almost 40 percent, any plantation should be welcomed. However, in this case it was the other way round. The respondent (Isha outreach) is not only doing plantation drives in Karnataka but also in Tamil Nadu."

Holla also submitted that it has been put up on the official website of the Foundation that the Cauvery calling project is not a project of the State of Karnataka. Even the state government has clarified that the project is not of the government and no government land is being used for carrying out the plantation. The foundation is assisting the government in carrying out its plantation drive.

Further, he submitted that one of the grounds raised in the petition was that we are collecting money for carrying out the plantation and mobilising farmers to participate from the public. Holla said, "That cannot be found fault with, because we are a public charitable trust and we have to declare our accounts every year."

Amicus Curiae Advocate B V Vidyulatha firstly apprised the court about a special leave petition filed before the Supreme Court by Isha outreach challenging the order of the high court taking the matter to suo-motu. She sought permission to make arguments in view of the pending petition. The court allowed her to proceed.

She submitted that the court was concerned about two aspects: the afforestation being undertaken on government land and forest land, and also money being raised from the public by the foundation. She said that Rs 42/ Tree is being demanded and the foundation plans to plant around 253 crores tree saplings across the 639 kilometer stretch of Cauvery river bank from its birthplace Talacauvery to Thiruvarur. That means, it is collecting a whooping sum of Rs 253 X 42 in total of Rs 10,626 crores, that is why the court looked into the matter.

A reference was also made to the fact that the Cauvery calling project has claimed to plant trees in forest land and no permission has been taken for it. When the financial burden is being borne by the state government, and the foundation is simultaneously raising the amount from the public, then what happens to the money collected from the public was one of the questions she posed.

To which the bench said, "If I say my expenses will be borne by the government, does it mean anything unless there is an order of the government?"

Holla informed the court about the awards and accolades received by the foundation for the work undertaken by it. He submitted,

"The Cauvery calling project is managed and executed by respondent 3. It is our project as the government did not accept it, we said we will do it on our own. Everything is accounted for, it is a public charitable trust, we have to file returns every year. If there is a difference they will not continue my exemption." He added "To say that there is some cheating, we are a public charitable trust and we have a reputation. We have received innumerable accolades and awards. If we would have been there to cheat we would have not received it."

The state government also clarified to the court that the Cauvery calling was not its project. The court again queried with the counsels, suppose it is forest land and I am planting a teak or sandalwood tree then, will it amount to an offence? The amicus replied that there was no bar in any act to her knowledge.

In response the bench orally observed, "We should promote these activities." Justice Chandra even recalled that "We are having a big mango tree in our house in Jabalpur. We wanted to expand the house, so we changed the design, instead of felling the tree. My son now says we are getting so many mangoes that we do not need to buy from the market."

Case Background

In January last year, the Court had asked Isha Foundation to disclose the amount it has collected for the 'Cauvery Calling Project

The bench had then said "Do not be under the impression that you are not bound by law because you are a spiritual organization."

Later, Isha Foundation told the Court that the project was being dealt with by its subsidiary Isha Outreach.

Last year, the Court had converted the PIL as a suo moto case after removing the petitioner as a party. The Court took this action after rebuking the petitioner for serving a legal notice on the Discovery Channel against the telecast of a program on 'Cauvery Calling' by misrepresenting that there was a stay on such a telecast.

Case Title: A V Amarnathan And State Of Karnataka

Case No: 43414/2019


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