New Delhi: More than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a Shiva bust built by Isha Foundation in Coimbatore, the Tamil Nadu government has stated the non-profit organization violated all the norms and regulations to construct the structures in the ecologically fragile region.
On Friday, while hearing a petition filed by an umbrella group of tribal inhabitants - Vellingiri Hill Tribal Protection Society - Madras High Court ordered a stay on the all the constructions in the area till April 10 - the next date of hearing.
"The government has conceded what locals have been saying all along. The foundation didn't seek necessary permissions from the authorities once it managed to show the wetland area fit to be used for other purposes," advocate R Kalaiarasu representing the tribal petitioners told ScoopWhoop News over phone from Coimbatore.
According to Kalaiarasu, after obtaining the Deputy Collector's certificate for using the land for other purposes, the foundation didn't opt for mandatory clearances from the Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP) & Hill Area Conservation Authority (HACA).
The court's directions came days after Tamil Nadu government filed a counter affidavit in the case stating the foundation had constructed buildings with "alarming" plinth area, without obtaining approvals from competent authorities.
Last week, officials at HACA had confirmed to ScoopWhoop News that the foundation has not sought any clearances from the department for construction.
According to the Tamil Nadu government's Department of Town and Country Planning, a lock, seal and demolition notice had been issued to Isha Foundation for unauthorised construction on 109 acres of ecologically fragile land as early as December 21, 2012.
"There should be a complete investigation as to why didn't the foundation act upon the notice of the government. This raises questions on the conduct of authorities," Srinivasan Kuppusamy, a prominent environment activist from Coimbatore told ScoopWhoop News.
On February 24, Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation had invited PM Modi to unveil a 112-foot bust of 'Adiyogi' (Lord Shiva) on the eve of Mahashivratri. While the locals had expressed their displeasure over what they saw as PM Modi's endorsement of environmental violations, many of them hoisted black flags as a symbolic protest.
On the day of the unveiling event, Tamil Nadu police arrested nearly 500 members of various outfits attempting to stage a demonstration against PM Modi near the site.
While the court's direction has drawn warm response from the locals and activists, some of them are worried that such initiatives might act as precedent for many other groups if the court doesn't take strict action against the Isha Foundation.
"There's a larger issue at stake here. The structures have got a tag of spirituality. If a large organisation like Isha foundation working for the positive of the society is violating the environmental norms, it's clearly letting down people who believe in such a movement. I think such a large movement needs to be lot more responsible with regard to every aspect," Arun Krishnamurthi, founder of renowned NGO Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), told ScoopWhoop News.
"The area where the construction has taken place is not a reserved area but it's very close to the protected zones. Such kind of large scale activities in massive number is setting a wrong example," he added.
However, activist Kuppusamy believes the PM's nod to the event is emboldening the spiritual foundation.
"Villagers want their land back. The construction has caused massive disturbance in the area and we seek demolition of the built structures. But the question is will that happen to a structure inaugurated by PM himself?" he said.
Meanwhile, Isha Foundation rubbished the allegations and said that no government norm was violated.
"We have followed the procedures , the concerned Govt Depts are seized of the matter and also the alleged violations are being heard in court . We cannot comment further on a matter which is subjudice," an official told ScoopWhoop News.
The organisation also said that it will give a legal response to the court and not to the media unlike the petitioners, which according them, 'have malicious and vested interests'.
Editor's Note: The headline of the original version of the article erroneously mentioned that the High Court had banned the construction at the site. It has been corrected to state that the High Court stayed construction at the site.