Isha Foundation, an organisation promoted by spiritual leader Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, has strongly rebutted the letter written by activists to Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio after his support to the Cauvery Calling project of the foundation, terming the claims made in the letter ‘factually incorrect’. On 25th September, the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, along with 95 civil society groups and 18 individuals, had written an open letter to DiCaprio urging him to withdraw his support for the project, after the Hollywood superstar had expressed his support for the project in a Facebook post on 21st September.
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CEJI had alleged that the plan to plant 2,420,000,000 under the Cauvery Calling project promotes a monoculturist paradigm of landscape restoration. It had claimed that planting trees in some areas will lead to drying up of streams and rivulets, and destruction of wildlife habitats. CEJI had also termed Isha Foundation a dubious organisation with low credibility, and such an organisation collecting huge amount of money from donations for the project is worrying.
In a point by point rebuttal issued by Isha Foundation, it says that Cauvery Calling involved planting plants only on private lands, it does not involve government-owned land on river banks or forests or grasslands. The Afforestation model proposed for the project is in line with the definition of agroforestry by FAO, and this is in no way a promotion of monoculture tree plantation, they assert.
The foundation has strongly objected to CEJI’s claim that the program does not comprehend the river basin’s realities. They have mentioned that the project has got the support of the prime minister of India, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments, UNCCD, UNDP, and the farming community. They have given a long list of organisations, ministries and prominent personalities who have supported the project.
On the allegation that the project will plant wrong species of trees which will damage the ecosystem, Isha Foundation has said that they have listed the appropriate species to be planted in each segment of the entire basin stretch. They have said that the list has complied with the advice of Karnataka Forest Department, Environment ministry of the central government and several Universities and institutions.
The Foundation also rejected the CEJI claim that the project is undertaken without any social action. They have said that the social outreach program that preceded the campaign involved volunteers visiting over 7000 villages and interacting with 2.7 lakh people in the Cauvery basin. A successful afforestation program takes the pressure off the natural forests for timber, which actually helps to protect the existing natural forests and their biodiversity, Isha Foundation adds.
The Foundation has also said that they have experience of 18 years in this subject as they already implemented a similar project in Tamil Nadu with 69760 farmers. Most of these farmers have fully grown trees, which they have started harvesting and earning income on them.
Isha Foundation has said that the activists are opposing the project even without educating themselves about the same, as the project is polyculture, not monoculture as alleged in the letter sent to Leonardo DiCaprio. They inform that multiple indigenous species of timber and horticulture species will be grown on a part of each farmer’s agricultural land which once had only annual crops. Thus, it will increase the floral and faunal biodiversity.
Referring to CEJI saying that ‘Waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh has remarked that Jaggi Vasudev’s ‘Cauvery Calling’ is a campaign “just to earn name and money”, Isha Foundation has said that everyone is entitled to their opinion. The activists have challenged the opinion of DiCaprio, the opinion of various experts who have supported the project, and the board of the project which includes scientists, administrators, ecologists, jurists and people who have held public office. “It is laughable to suggest that Sadhguru, a Padma Vibhusahan awardee would need to start a mega public campaign to earn name and money”, the rebuttal by the foundation says.
Isha Foundation has said that they are ready to look at any facts, in place of vague and unsubstantiated opinions in the open letter to Mr DiCaprio. “Democracy is not just about expressing one’s opinion. It is also about examining facts dispassionately and allowing oneself to be persuaded to modify one’s opinion”, they say. The Foundation has also invited the activists to visit Tamil Nadu to see the work they have done with farmers.