The Madras High Court on Tuesday restrained the Coimbatore District Environmental Engineer (DEE) from proceeding further with prosecution initiated against Isha Foundation for having constructed buildings without obtaining environmental clearance between 2006 and 2014.
Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu passed the interim order on a writ petition filed by the foundation contending the State government authorities had misconstrued an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification issued in 2014.
Senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, representing the foundation, stated the 2014 notification was an extension of a similar notification issued in 2006 and therefore the exemption granted for buildings used for educational purposes must be extended from 2006 and not from 2014. He claimed the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority was also clear on the issue. Nevertheless, due to mala fide reasons, the State government officials had decided to prosecute the foundation after the recent change of regime, the counsel alleged.
On the other hand, Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram said, it was up to the Centre to clarify whether the 2014 notification would have a retrospective effect from 2006 or not. He added the prosecution had already been launched by filing a complaint before a Magistrate’s court.
After hearing both sides, the judges ordered notices, returnable by two weeks, to the Centre and the State government and asked Additional Solicitor General R. Sankaranarayanan to ascertain the stand of the Centre on the issue by the next hearing.
Filing an affidavit on behalf of the foundation, its authorised signatory C.R. Dinesh Raja contended it was a volunteer-run registered public charitable trust, founded in 1992. The foundation had set up Isha Yoga Centre in 1994 to run a group of educational institutions. A variety of courses on yoga, classical arts and Sanskrit were taught through a Gurukul format. The foundation also began imparting English-medium education, affiliated to the ICSE Board. The institutions were spread over 48.3 hectares in Velliangiri hills.
Claiming that the buildings used for educational purposes were spread over 1,25,849 square metres, the foundation stated that 28,279 square metres were constructed before 2006, when the first EIA notification came into force, and the remaining 91,519 square metres were constructed later.
The foundation contended that the 2014 EIA notification was an extension of the 2006 notification and therefore the exemption provided under the former for educational institutions must apply from 2006 onwards and there could not be an unreasonable classification.