Thursday, July 26, 2018

Shocking Truth behind Isha's Deforestation allegations?

I have been wondering about the allegations that Isha encroached the forest lands. Many a person has told me that this is a lie being repeated by vested interests in the hope of making it sound like a truth. The unfortunate reality is that many common people also think this is the case because of the number of the times it has been said in media, though not a single person or group has been able to prove this over last 20 years!

What is Isha Foundation's Stand?

I checked the Isha Foundation website and they have given a clear notice that this is a lie being perpetrated against them.

"Isha Yoga Center is not constructed on forest land or elephant corridor. It is constructed on 100% Patta land. In 2013, Tamil Nadu Forest Department officials verified this, and clearly documented that the center is only on Patta land and has not infringed onto forest land. The document reference number is CFCIT/07/2013."

My Findings from TN Forest Department website

I went to the Tamilnadu Forest Department website and found something very interesting. These definitions are quite important for us to note as it is from the Tamilnadu Forest Department itself. The relevant page link is:

Forest Cover: All lands, more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10 percent irrespective of ownership and legal status. Such lands may not necessarily be a recorded forest area. It also includes orchards, bamboo and palm. 
Forest Area: The area recorded as a forest in the Government records. It is also referred to as “recorded forest area”. 
Moderately Dense Forest: All lands with forest cover having a canopy density between 40 to 70 percent. 
Open Forest: Lands with forest cover having a canopy density between 10 to 40 percent. 
Protected Forest(PF): An area notified under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act or other State Forest Acts, having limited degree of protection. In protected forest all activities are permitted unless prohibited. 
Reserved Forest (RF): An area so constituted under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act or other State Forest Acts, having full degree of protection. In Reserved forests all activities are prohibited unless permitted. 
Scrub: Degraded forest lands having canopy density less than 10 percent. 
Tree Cover: It comprises of tree patches outside the recorded forest area exclusive of forest cover and less than the minimum mappable area (1 ha) and up to 0.1 ha. Such small patches comprising of block, linear and scattered trees are not delineated as forest cover during interpretation of satellite data. The areas of scattered trees are computed by notional numbers. 
Very Dense Forests: Lands with forest cover having a canopy density of 70 percent and above. 
Unclassed Forest: An area recorded as forest but not included in reserved or protected forest category. Ownership status of such forests varies from State to State.

Why are these definitions important for us to understand the context?

These definitions are important because we have three facts on hand:

(1) Isha Foundation lands are near the Booluvampatti Reserved Forest

(2) The definition of Forest cover is all encompassing irrespective of the ownership of the land

(3) The Tamilnadu Forest cover has actually increased from 2011 to 2017!

I will elaborate on each of these points below. But, I am going to first put you through a psychology experiment.

If I tell you that someone, say X, has cut down a 100 year old huge tree with an electric saw, you would immediately feel anger within you. Wouldn't you? And that is a genuine emotion! 

But you only heard me saying that! Did you actually see for yourself if X has indeed cut a tree down? Even if X had cut a tree, what was the context in which he / she did that?

What would be your reaction if I told you X is a rich person? Is your anger still there or is it increasing?

Would you still be angry if I told you that the tree had fallen down on X's child and if X had not cut the tree and removed it, her child would have been crushed to death under that tree? After all, you did not even know whether the cut tree was standing earlier or was on the ground already!! 

Do you see how easy it is to get our emotions manipulated?

So, the next time you hear something about someone, ascertain if such an incident actually happened and if it did, what was the context. If you do not get convincing answers for either question, you can best ignore such information.

(1) Isha Foundation lands are near the Booluvambatti Reserved Forest

The concerns raised against Isha Foundation initially could well have been legitimate but where it all became a slandering campaign was when the team used a map that was produced by Mr Saravanan Chandrasekeran on Facebook once. Saravanan had actually posted a Google Earth image of the Isha Foundation and incorrectly questioned if Isha was occupying the forest land. 

This is the image that is spread in various memes ... obviously a work of Photoshop because you cannot find such images on Google map's timelines! 

The first thing about this image is that it is at such a high level claiming to show the Isha Yoga Campus. Is the Isha Yoga Campus all over the map or is it a small place in the map? From 2006 to 2016, the campus might have grown. What is the exact size of the Isha Yoga premises in both years? People who only see and react to such meme photos emotionally don't ask this basic and logical question.

Secondly, as per the definition of Reserved Forest, nothing can be done in the forest without permission of Forest officials. So, it sounds incredulous that such a big organization shaping up within Forest lands, especially a Reserved Forest, would go unnoticed for so many years. If there is anybody who has access to the forest lands, it is the tribals living there and the Forest Officials. If somebody claims the tribals have cut the trees in the forest, it is even understandable. But how would Isha Foundation be held responsible for that?

If one is using Google Earth Images, did you ever wonder why they compare 2006 vs 2016? That is because it is easy to project the wrong figure that way. Why 2006 and 2016? Pick 1993 and 1995 instead!

I can argue that Isha Foundation has caused lot of afforestation in the Velliangiri Hills since they came to be in 1994!!

Check out:,76.7275,11.973,latLng&t=1.95

Generally, clarity of Satellite images are subject to so many factors including:

- Season in which the photo is taken
- Time of the day
- Even the Algorithms that process the raw image taken

Why do you think pictures taken in recent years are sharper? Did someone go up and change the cameras in those satellites?

This is the Google maps image I picked up today (July 2018). See how different it looks from the alleged map of 2016 to now or even compared to the Google Earth images from 1993!

You can check it for yourself by visiting this link:,76.7325588,3015m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x3ba8576b1434d763:0x2327c3abe1d98040!8m2!3d10.9772294!4d76.7373321

Of course, Isha Foundation might have expanded their campus by buying the nearby lands to accommodate more people within their premises. That does not mean, they destroyed a whole forest as is being claimed!!

Saravanan himself had later published an apology that his initial analysis was incorrect!

No land of Isha Foundation is on forest area but the allegation had by then caught the attention of vested interests who spread it like wild-fire for gullible public to consume.

Here are some excellent posts by someone who had made extensive study about this topic:

To quote from these posts:

"There is one route going towards left and that is path to forest and in the junction, there is forest department check post. in the middle of the picture you can notice there is one path going left and that path is way to vellingiri temple and each year many people visit this place and climb vellingiri mountain and above that path is the start of velligiri mountain. Vertical road from bottom to top which connects these 2 path is boundary between forest and agriculture land. 
Between path to vellingiri temple and path towards forest is plains and it is covered by forest and there is a possibility of elephant in this area when weather is very dry. To reach isha we have to go 1 km from there. 
West side of isha is covered by mountains and east side is covered by agriculture lands. Mostly elephant will not walk in slopes and that restrict elephant movement after the path to vellingiri nathar temple. 
Only the path which goes to isha crossing vellingiri temple will be blocked after night 8 or 9 by forest department to ensure safety. Inside isha there is no warning or fear of elephants even in dark. No one reported elephant movement. Mountain slope should have restricted elephant movement. 
Towards east of isha yoga center you can see lot of agriculture lands if there are any elephant movement in those place people would not prefer it for agriculture. 
Now as visitors has increased isha has shifted the entrance to malai vasal which is away from this road."

"The whole area that extends to the left side of this road marked spottily by green and brown spots is the actual forest / hilly area. On this side of the picture, the brown spots indicate the rocky surface whereas the greenery indicates trees in the hilly area. 
It can be seen in the bottom right corner of where the AdiYogi statue is, well into the area where Agri lands are. In fact, right behind the AdiYogi statue is a place called ‘Karthik Farms’ which is someone’s private agricultural property. It is quite obvious from the map that the AdiYogi statue is not in forest area."

It is a shame that some of these people spreading such false information about the Isha Foundation claim to be environmentalists but are actually paid activists. People fall victim to such false allegations because of their own genuine concern towards the environment. But they do not know to ascertain the facts properly.

These lies about Isha cutting down trees or building statues in a forest land are easy to spread mainly because Isha Foundation’s lands are "near the forest" though it is not actually in the forest land itself.

(2) The definition of Forest cover is all encompassing irrespective of the ownership of the land

Since the Forest Department's definition of Forest Cover includes even private lands (> 1 hectare area with > 10% tree cover), easily Isha Foundation's lands fall into that category. But the Forest Department also says that legality & ownership of such lands can be private! It's clear in its definition that such places do not fall into the 'FOREST AREA' category. But general public might not be aware of such nuances. 

We have a fairly common vision in our minds on how a forest would appear, something like this ...

But each type of forest is different. A Dense Forest looks different from a Moderately Dense Forest which is again appearing different from an Open Forest area!

Now, the lands near (and outside) the Isha Foundation look like this:

This does not even seem close to what an Open Forest would be. But for people who do not know about all these types of forests, etc. it is easy to misunderstand and for vested interests quite easy to misrepresent that Isha Foundation's lands are indeed Forest lands whereas they seem to be clearly not!

(3) The Tamilnadu Forest cover has actually increased if you compare reports from 2011 to 2017!

Here are the links to the official Forest Department reports:

Let's look at the Forest cover areas of different types of forests in Tamilnadu:

VDF area in Sq Km -  2011: 2948    2013: 2948 2017: 3672
MDF area in Sq Km - 2011: 10321   2013: 10199 2017: 10979
OF area in   Sq Km -  2011: 10356   2013: 10697 2017: 11630

How can that be!? How has there been an increase in the actual forest area between 2011 and 2017 if we keep hearing that trees are being cut down and the dooms day is nearby?

Simple - because our minds like exaggeration, media feeds only such information to us. 

This rise in forest cover is due to active reforestation work done by several organizations across the state of Tamilnadu! 

The positive information like Isha Foundation's Project Green Hands team  distributing and taking care of over 3 crore tree saplings + efforts by individuals like Tamil Actor Vivek, Parthiban, etc. rarely makes it through media. And we are partly to blame for that. We ask for sensation only and media feeds it to us constantly!


It is up to us to find the truth for ourselves. I have given all publicly available links here. This can all be easily verifiable. The next time someone tells you that Isha Foundation has caused environmental damage, please show them this detailed article. 

Let's spread around only Love!

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