Yoga Centre at Isha Foundation is ‘Educational Institution’: Madras HC Permits it to Challenge State’s Show Cause Notice

Isha Foundation Law Insider

Sakina Tashrifwala

Published on: November 10, 2022 at 21:02 IST

The Madras High Court noted on Wednesday that, in accordance with the Central Government’s 2014 clarification regarding the entities that are exempt from obtaining necessary environmental clearance before beginning construction work, Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation would fall under the category of “Educational Institutions.”

The Acting Chief Justice T Raja and Justice D Krishnakumar’s panel noted that the Office Memorandum also included institutions that were crucial to people’s moral, intellectual, and physical growth.

Since there was no question that the centre taught yoga, it would fall within the jurisdiction of educational institutions because it fostered mental development.

“According to the Office Memorandum, an educational institution includes not only buildings but also all grounds required for the accomplishment of the full scope of educational instruction, including those things essential to mental, moral, and physical development.”

“Educational institutions include schools, seminaries, colleges, universities, professional academies, training institutes, and other educational establishments; they are not required to be chartered institutions.”

“Therefore, it appears to us that the yoga centre constructed by the petitioner may be included when the office memo has specified that educational institutions will mean not only schools universities etc. but also those that deal with mental and moral growth.”

The foundation initially prayed for a stay of the State’s show cause notice’s implementation. The State was ordered not to act on the show cause notice after the court issued an interim stay.

The foundation then attempted to add a second prayer in an effort to refute the Show Cause notice itself.

Yesterday, the court permitted the foundation to contest the State’s Show Cause notice against it for carrying out construction work in Coimbatore between 2006 and 2014 without obtaining the necessary environmental clearance as required by the Central Government’s Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.

Since it is a “educational institution,” the foundation said, the show cause notice itself is illegal.

All construction operations now require prior environmental permission, per the 2006 Environment Impact Assessment Notification. Educational establishments were excused from obtaining prior environmental approval in 2014, nonetheless.

The Advocate General today firmly disagreed with the foundation’s claim.

He claimed that the trial court should decide whether the foundation qualified as an educational institution.

“A seminary is a school for divinity. Is yoga a college of divinity? The trial court must consider that issue”, he consented.

The High Court of Kerala’s October 2020 decision to postpone the Union government’s 2014 announcement exempting educational institutions was disclosed to the court by an impleader in the interim.

The court then ordered the Centre to seek guidance on how it could issue a clarification in May 2022 when a stay by the High Court was already in effect.

“Can you continue to provide clarifications to the prior Office Memorandum after the High Court suspended the Office Memorandum you passed in 2014 providing exceptions? We require clarification regarding what transpired in that petition, if a decision was made, and whether the stay was revoked.”

The matter has been continued for hearing on November 21.

Advocate General R. Shunmughasundaram requested further time to file a response to the additional prayer.

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