New Delhi: The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India and 95 civil society groups have written a letter to climate activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio expressing their concern over his support toward the Isha Foundation’s ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign.
On Saturday, DiCaprio shared a link on Facebook endorsing his support for the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign. “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,” DiCaprio wrote.
In the letter, signed by the coordinator of the Environment Support Group Leo F. Saldanha, the coalition wrote that DiCaprio “may not have been appropriately advised” when it came to supporting the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign and urged him “to withdraw the second part of the message”.
“Cauvery Calling’, a nationwide campaign launched by the Isha Foundation, aims to plant 242 crore trees along the Cauvery river and has called for people to donate Rs 42 per tree.
The letter noted that a series of urban and industrial projects had polluted the river – which remained a critical source of livelihood for four southern states of India – and welcomed DiCaprio’s support to rejuvenate the Cauvery.
The coalition then pointed out that the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign was not the appropriate platform for rehabilitating the river basin and that the Jaggi Vasudev and Isha Foundation’s “populist and simplistic methods” would assist the “denigration of systematic and serious efforts necessary to address complex environmental and social justice causes” and called on DiCaprio to withdraw his support for the campaign.
The letter added that the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign’s proposal to save the river by simply planting trees on the banks of the river was only one of several necessary activities and a process that had to be undertaken “based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics” while also taking into account constitutionally empowered Panchayats.
The coalition also called the Isha Foundation’s approach as one that promoted “a monoculturist paradigm of landscape restoration which people of India have rejected long ago” and warned that the programme could “create unintended and unforeseen social and ecological consequences” and lead to drying up of streams and the destruction of wildlife habitats.
The coalition also drew attention to the Isha Foundation’s “low credibility in conforming with Indian laws protecting human rights and environment” and cited a PIL filed in the Karnataka high court against its fund collection and instances where the foundation had encroached upon land belonging to Adivasis.
Pointing out that the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign was “not a programme that will protect Cauvery, her forests, her biodiversity, her children, and her childrens’ children”, the coalition requested DiCaprio to experience “first-hand the kind of hard work essential to safeguard Cauvery” and join “grassroots-based, consultative, collective and networked efforts, to rejuvenate Cauvery”.
Speaking to the NewsMinute, Leo Saldanha said that it was worrying that Rs 10,000 crore from the public is being collected by misusing their faith. “At the same time, public concerns are not being addressed”, he said.
The full text of the letter has been reproduced below:
Dear Mr. DiCaprio,
You have taken enormous responsibility in playing a leading role in promoting rights of indigenous communities, protecting wildlife, case sensitively promoting conservation strategies, and, needless to state, pushing for clear action to tackle global warming. Your actions are globally influential and help boost, and immensely, positive and progressive efforts for human rights and the environment. Which, we are sure, you undertake with necessary and due caution. It appears to us, the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, however, that you may not have been appropriately advised in supporting the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign advanced by Jaggi Vasudev of Isha Foundation.
Cauvery, from its origins in the high mountains of Kodagu in Karnataka, is a river that drains a substantial part (over 81 000 sq. km.) of southern India. Without its life nurturing flows, livelihoods of millions of farmers and fisherfolk would collapse, and agriculture and cities would disintegrate into chaos. Besides, biodiversity, forests, grasslands and the massive deltaic region that this river nurtures would be devastated.
In recent decades, a slew of projects have been promoted by diverting the river’s waters with massive dams, to support water intensive agriculture, generate hydropower and bring water to ever expanding urban and industrial projects, all without informed and democratic decision making. Thereafter, the mostly untreated refuse water from cities and industries is drained back into the river, causing havoc to her life sustaining capacities – making stretches of the river amongst the most polluted in India. Yet, Cauvery’s waters are a critical resource to four southern states of India, and are being contested over intensely, resulting even in violent conflicts between peoples of the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Clearly, Cauvery needs all the help she can get now. In that sense, your support to rejuvenate Cauvery is very welcome.
However, the ‘Cauvery Calling’ campaign 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.
Planting trees is welcome, but only when it is done where needed, and by choosing appropriate species. It is a process that is best done consultatively, based on local needs, and sensitive to local ecological dynamics. Besides, such a programme must be undertaken with appropriate social action – ground up, involving constitutionally empowered Panchayats, and statutory Forest Rights Committees, Biodiversity Management Committees, Ward Committees, etc. Needless to add, tree planting is only one of the many many activities that are needed to rejuvenate the river; and tree planting alone won’t achieve the critical task of saving Cauvery. It is also important to note that even when tree planting is taken up in the most appropriate way, as described above, there is a critical need to stop mindless destruction of forests and watersheds of the Cauvery, which is taking place extensively across the rivers’ watersheds, all in the name of ‘development’.
The tree planting promoted by Isha Foundation, by inviting people to donate money to plant 2,420,000,000 trees, may appear incredibly attractive. But on deeper investigation, it comes across as a method that promotes a monoculturist paradigm of landscape restoration which people of India have rejected long ago. Besides, such a programme could create unintended and unforeseen social and ecological consequences, as planting trees in certain regions (grasslands and floodplains for instance) could 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.
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). It is also noted that Mr. Jaggi Vasudev and Isha Foundation have often resorted to populist and simplistic methods on various public concerns, and thus aiding denigration of systematic and serious efforts necessary to address complex environmental and social justice causes.
As a matter of fact, a Public Interest Litigation has already been filed in the Karnataka High Court against fund collection for ‘Cauvery Calling’. The link you have shared on your Facebook page of the Isha website reveals that the volume of money being gathered is over Rs. 10000 crores (US$ 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. ‘Waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh has remarked that Jaggi Vasudev’s ‘Cauvery Calling’ is a campaign “just to earn name and money”.
It is our considered view that you may have been poorly advised, or not have had the time to personally investigate the back ground 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.” Indeed the first part of your message is most welcome. However, we urge you to withdraw the second part of the message, as it amounts to promoting Isha Foundations ‘Cauvery Calling’. This is not a programme that will protect Cauvery, her forests, her biodiversity, her children, and her childrens’ children. It will certainly not save Cauvery. On the contrary, support for this kind of a campaign sets a very wrong precedent.
We invite you to the Cauvery basin so you may appreciate first-hand the kind of hard work essential to safeguard Cauvery for perpetuity. It will also be an opportunity to experience the deep humanisms intrinsic to peoples of the Cauvery basin, and a time to notice the amazing natural diversity that abounds her graceful spread across South India. 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’ for reasons cited above.
Handed over by:
Leo F. Saldanha, Coordinator, Environment Support Group
On behalf of Coalition for Environmental Justice in India
24th September 2019
Movements, Networks and Civil Society Organisations:
- All India Forum of Forest Movements
- All India People’s Forum
- All India Union of Forest Working People
- All India Women’s Hawkers Federation
- Alternative Law Forum Karnataka
- Aruna Rodrigues, Lead Petitioner in Supreme Court for a moratorium on GMOs
- Baiga Adhikar Shakti Sangathan
- Baiga Mahila Sangathan
- Beyond Copenhegan Collective
- Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha, New Delhi
- Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, Odisha
- Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action, Jharkhand
- Caste Annihilation Movement, Chhattisgarh
- Centre for Financial Accountability New Delhi
- Chennai Solidarity Group, Chennai
- Chhattisgarh Hawker Federation, Chhattisgarh
- Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, Chhattisgarh
- Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh
- Chhattisgarh Nagrik Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, Chhattisgarh
- Citizens Concern for Dams & Development
- Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development, Mangalore
- Coastal Action Network
- Community Environmental Monitoring, Chennai
- Dalit Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh
- Delhi Forum, Delhi
- Delhi Solidarity Group, New Delhi
- Domestic Workers’ Union, Delhi
- Environics Trust, New Delhi
- Environment Support Group, Bengaluru
- Equations, Bangalore
- Financial Accountability Network India, New Delhi
- Focus on the Global South, New Delhi
- Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan, Mumbai
- Hawker Adhikar Rakashwa Committee
- Hawker Sangram Committee
- Henri Tiphagne, People’s Watch, Madurai
- South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP)
- Himdhara – Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh
- India Climate Justice
- Indian Social Action Forum
- Indigenous Perspectives, Manipur
- INSOCO, Kerala
- Institute for Democracy & Sustainability, Delhi
- Intercultural Resources, New Delhi
- Jan Sangharsh Vahini, Delhi
- Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan, Jharkhand
- Jharkhand Mines Area Co-ordination Committee, Jharkhand
- Joe Athialy Centre for Financial Accountability, New Delhi
- Kabani, Kerala
- Kerala Swathantra Matsya Tozhylali Federation, Kerala
- Khan Kaneej Aur Adhikar, Jharkhand
- Kisan Janta, Kerala
- Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
- Lok Adhikar Shakti Sangathan
- Lok Raj Sangathan
- Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Odisha
- Machimaar Adhikaar Sangharsh Sangathan, Gujarat
- Manthan Aadhyan Kendra, Madhya Pradesh / Maharashtra
- Matu Jan Sangathan, Uttarakhand
- Mines, Minerals and People
- Mitanin Swastya Seva Sanghatan, Chhattisgarh
- Nadi Ghati Morcha, Chhattisgarh
- Narmada Bachao Andolan Madhya Pradesh
- National Alliance of People’s Movements
- National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
- National Fishworker’s Forum
- National Hawkers Federation
- Navadanya, New Delhi
- Nayi Rajdhani Prabhavit Kissan Kalyan Samiti, Chhattisgarh
- New Trade Union Initiative
- North Bengal Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers
- North East Peoples Alliance, Manipur
- Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat
- Peoples Forum Against ADB
- Plachimada Solidarity Committee
- Pondicherry Slum Dwellers Federation, Pondicherry
- Public Finance Public Accountability Collective
- Public Services International
- Rastriya Rajmarg Prabhavit Kissan Nagarik Samiti, Chhattisgarh
- River Basin Friends
- Rural Volunteers Centre
- Samajwadi Samagam
- Sanyukt Trade Union Council, Chhattisgarh
- South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, New Delhi
- Srijan Lokhit Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
- Teeradesa Mahla Vedi, Kerala
- The Research Collective, New Delhi
- Toxics Watch Alliance, New Delhi
- Trans National Institute
- Vettivel Collective, Chennai
- Vidharbha Van Adhikar Sanghatana
- Water Initiatives
- Working Group on International Financial Institutions
- Ashok Shrimali, Mines, Minerals & People, New Delhi
- Aditi Chanchani, Bangalore
- Anil T Varghese, Delhi Solidarity Group, New Delhi
- Bharat Mansata, author, editor, activist and co-founder of ‘Earthcare Books’ (Kolkata)
- Himanshu Thakkar, Environmental Activist and Water Expert, Coordinator-South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP)
- Meena Subramaniam, Independent artist, Kumily, Kerala
- Namrata Kabra, Environmental Lawyer, New Delhi
- Niraj Bhatt, Life Science Researcher, Chennai
- Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai Solidarity Group, Chennai
- N. Ram, The Hindu, Chennai
- Om Prakash Singh, Environment and Climate Action, Chennai
- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Author, Academic, Film-maker, Journalist
- Ramnarayan, Ecologist, Uttarakhand
- Ranganathan Manohar, CARE, Bangalore
- Ravi Rebbapragara, Samata, Visakhapatnam
- Sana Huque, Sahana Subramanian, Mallesh K. R., Abhijna Bellur, Environment Support Group
- Sharachchandra Lele, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment, Bangalore
- Sharadha Narayanan, Senior Researcher- Environment and Climate Action, Chennai
- Simar Kohli Das, Lifetide Collective for Water Sustainability, Justice and Harmony, Bangalore
- S. Saroja, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, Chennai
- Suprabha Seshan, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Kerala
- Tara Murali, Architect, Chennai
- Vandana Shiva, Navdanya, New Delhi
- Vinay K Sreenivasa, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore