- Leonardo DiCaprio backs 'Cauvery Calling' campaign
- Environment Support Group asks actor to reconsider his decision
- Isha Foundation says open letter "contains blatant untruths"
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev's Isha Foundation has given a point-by-point reply to claims by an environment group that the non-profit's tree-planting initiative 'Cauvery Calling' would do more harm than good.
The Environment Support Group (ESG), which works with a wide range of national and international organisations, in an open letter on September 25 asked Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio to consider withdrawing his endorsement of the non-profit's 'Cauvery Calling' campaign.
"An open letter recently written to actor Leonardo DiCaprio attempts to gain publicity by attacking a high visibility cause supported by a prominent celebrity... The letter is a baseless opinion that contains blatant untruths and loose comments with no backing in facts," Isha Foundation said in a post on its website.
"The main argument is that the Cauvery Calling movement is proposing simplistic solutions, such as planting monocultures of trees on riverbanks. That is factually incorrect: The Cauvery Calling campaign is a comprehensive plan to plant trees on a portion of private farm land in Cauvery basin districts. The fundamental principles of Cauvery Calling have been supported by both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments. The article features ad hominem attacks on Isha Foundation and its founder, Sadhguru, presenting as facts, untruths that have been repeatedly rebutted in the past," Sadhguru's non-profit said.
The ESG in the open letter on behalf of the 'Coalition for Environmental Justice in India', and endorsed by over 90 non-profits, said Isha Foundation's campaign to plant 242 crore trees in the ecologically fragile Cauvery basin "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 habitat."
Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio in a Facebook post on September 21 had backed Sadhguru's campaign that seeks to increase water retention in the Cauvery basin by 40 per cent. "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..." Mr DiCaprio had written.
To the allegation that the 'Cauvery Calling' campaign "is not a programme that comprehends the river basin's realities, and her future well-being", Isha Foundation gave a list of government agencies, ministries and private firms that have backed its initiative as proof that the campaign had solid credibility.
"We're not really sure on what basis you have concluded that we don't comprehend the 'river basin's realities'. Contrary to what your letter suggests, this is a multi-stakeholder project that has garnered support from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments, the Prime Minister of India, UNCCD, UNDP, and above all, widespread support from the farming communities... We have been consistently engaging with NITI Aayog, the country's apex economic policy think tank in feeding into policies that are relevant to river revitalisation and farmer wellbeing. These are highly reputed bodies that would not endorse any movement lightly," Isha Foundation said.
The Cauvery basin in Karnataka and neighbouring Tamil Nadu has depleted over 40 per cent in the last 70 years. At least 87 per cent of the basin's original tree cover has been lost, Isha Foundation says. Fifteen of the last 18 years have been drought years in Karnataka. Seventeen districts in Tamil Nadu were declared drought-hit this year.