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Even Spiritual Matters are Bound by Law, Says Karnataka High Court on Cauvery Calling Campaign

River Cauvery.

River Cauvery.

The court asked the state government and Isha Foundation to explain on whose authority money was being collected from the public for the afforestation programme.

Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday asked the state government and spiritual organisation Isha Foundation to explain under what laws they have been collecting money for the Cauvery Calling campaign as part of their Rally for Rivers movement.

While hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), Chief Justice AS Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar wondered if the foundation should be allowed to collect money for a cause such as this.

“Because it is a spiritual organisation, it is not above the law. Even spiritual matters are bound by the law,” the court said.

Advocate AV Amaranathan, who filed the plea, questioned under what law or authority the foundation was collecting Rs 42 per tree, when the state government was paying farmers Rs 10 per tree for the same cause of afforestation in the Cauvery belt.

“This foundation is not registered under any Act, either as a trust or under the Companies Act. It claims in its videos that it is authorised by the government to collect money, but under what rule or law is this happening?” said Amaranathan, speaking to News18.

According to the Isha Foundation’s website, “Cauvery Calling is a first of its kind campaign, setting the standard for how India’s rivers – the country’s lifelines – can be revitalized. It will initiate the revitalization of Cauvery river and transform the lives of 84 million people.”

To the court's question on whether this afforestation programme is being carried out by any trust, the foundation’s counsel only said that it was a movement.

“The PIL alleged that it is not registered as a trust but we have denied that. Rally for Rivers is a movement, but the money for it is collected by a public charitable trust and we will furnish the details of the same at the next hearing,” said Ashok Harnahalli, senior advocate and counsel for Isha Foundation.

The government also made it clear in its affidavit in response to the PIL that the money collection is entirely a private affair and only the foundation can answer that. The government is neither participating in nor promoting this exercise, it said.

“The Isha Foundation is planning to plant 253 crore plants to save the Cauvery river. The report states that the Isha Foundation is collecting Rs 42 per tree planting from the public. That means the Isha Foundation is collecting a sum of Rs 10,626 crore. This collection of money from the public is very disturbing,” the petitioner argued.

Asked what the government was doing about the foundation collecting money, the state advocate said they had not received any complaints about this.

However, the chief justice told the government it was its (the government’s) duty to inquire if it knew of public money being collected using the government's name or authority, as it is the protector of public money.

The case has been adjourned till February 12, when both respondents have been asked to file their replies and disclose how much money has been collected and under what authority.

A spokesperson of the foundation said, "There has been an attempt by some mischievous sources to make malicious insinuations regarding Cauvery Calling... We have so far been able to get funding that will enable farmers in the Cauvery basin to plant more than 1.6 crore tree saplings. Online and digital contributions (accounting for 99.6% of all total contributions) from 150 different countries and lakhs of individuals have given flight to this movement. The government of Karnataka has pitched in with a promise to distribute 73 lakhs saplings directly to farmers in 2020 to enable them to take up this exciting possibility of tree-based agriculture."