Over 100 signatories urge Leonardo DiCaprio to withdraw support for Cauvery Calling campaign of Sadhguru's Isha Foundation

  • The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, 95 civil society groups and 18 individuals wrote a letter to Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio days after he expressed support for the Cauvery Calling campaign

  • Cauvery, originating in Kodagu in Karnataka, is a river that drains over 81,000 square kilometres of southern India

  • A PIL in the Karnataka High Court has raised questions about how the foundation was collecting funds from the public for the campaign

The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, 95 civil society groups and 18 individuals wrote a letter to Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, days after he expressed support for the Cauvery Calling campaign that was launched by the Isha Foundation headed by spiritual leader Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.

The letter, compiled by Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group, read, “You may have been poorly advised or not have had the time to personally investigate the background of the promoters of Cauvery Calling before you embraced the programme with this message on Facebook: ‘India’s rivers are severely endangered with many of its smaller rivers vanishing. Join Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation in their fight to preserve the Cauvery River’.”

The letter welcomed the first part of the message but urged DiCaprio to withdraw the second part as it amounted to support to the organisation.

 Over 100 signatories urge Leonardo DiCaprio to withdraw support for Cauvery Calling campaign of Sadhgurus Isha Foundation

File photo of Mettur dam on the Cauvery river. PTI

In a Facebook post on 21 September, the actor had written, “India’s rivers are severely endangered with many of its smaller rivers vanishing. Join Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation in their fight to preserve the Cauvery River.”

The letter claims that Cauvery Calling is not a programme that “comprehends the river basin’s realities, and her future well-being”.

“It appears to be a programme that presents, rather simplistically, that the river can be saved by planting trees on banks of her streams, rivulets, tributaries and the floodplains of the river,” it read.

Cauvery, from its origins in the high mountains of Kodagu in Karnataka, is a river that drains over 81,000 square kilometres of southern India. The letter also claims that the campaign, which aims to plant 2,42,00,00,000 trees funded by donations, may “result in drying up of streams and rivulets, and destruction of wildlife habitats. Further, it can also lead to encroachments of the floodplains and riverbeds, as has happened at numerous places.”

According to The Hindu, a PIL in the Karnataka High Court has raised questions on how the foundation was allowed to raise funds to plant trees on public land. This was also mentioned in the letter sent to DiCaprio, while claiming that Rajendra Singh, Waterman of India, had remarked that "Cauvery Calling is a campaign 'just to earn name and money'".

“The link you have shared on your Facebook page of the Isha website reveals that the volume of money being gathered is over Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion). The implications of such massive funds being made available to a private foundation, particularly one that as a very weak, and rather dubious, record of compliance of human rights and environmental laws, is quite worrying,” the letter read.

Questions on the credibility of Isha Foundation were also raised by the environmentalists. “Isha Foundation has very low credibility in conforming with Indian laws protecting human rights and environment. No less an authority than the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, a constitutional body, has reported that the foundation has built its headquarters into an elephant corridor and on land belonging to Adivasis (original inhabitants of India, who are indigenous communities),” according to the letter.

"This is not a programme that will protect Cauvery, her forests, her biodiversity, her children and her children’s children. It will certainly not save Cauvery. On the contrary, support for this kind of a campaign sets a very wrong precedent," the letter argued.

The signatories also hit out at the NGO, accusing it of using “populist and simplistic methods”, which suggest that the imperiled river can be saved just by planting trees. The letter claimed that the Cauvery Calling project would rather result in the “denigration of systematic and serious efforts” to address environmental and social justice issues. It was also noted that a slew of urban and industrial projects, not resulting out of informed and democratic decision-making, had polluted the river, which is a critical resource for four southern states.

It may be noted that the distribution of Cauvery waters has been a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with a Supreme Court ruling in July directing the former to discharge 34 tmc ft of water to the neighbouring state.

The letter concluded by inviting DiCaprio to visit the Cauvery basin to experience the situation on-ground. "We would like you to join our grassroots based, consultative, collective and networked efforts, to rejuvenate Cauvery. Meanwhile, we urge you to withdraw your call for support to Cauvery Calling," the letter read.

It also suggested that tree plantation is a process to be conducted after consultations on local needs, local ecological dynamics and to be executed with appropriate social action.

The signatories to the letter include Plachimada Solidarity Committee, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (New Delhi), Equations (Bengaluru), Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch (Madurai), India Climate Justice, Alternative Law Forum (Karnataka), Chennai Solidarity Group, Narmada Bachao Andolan, environmental lawyer Namrata Kabra, environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman and author-journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, among others.

The Cauvery Calling campaign was launched in July with an aim to revitalise the dying river which is the source of livelihood, irrigation and drinking water for 84 million people, a release said. The movement aims at supporting lakhs of farmers in the Cauvery basin to plant 242 crore trees in an economic plan that is expected to revive not just the river but the fortunes of farmers in the basin as well.

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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2019 00:15:18 IST