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A consumerist approach to an ecological issue: experts interrogate ‘Cauvery Calling’

Spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev’s river restoration campaign— Cauvery Calling— has approached an ecological problem with an economic movement in calling for planting timber trees across the banks of the river in a bid to raise farmer’s income, said Mihir Shah, former member of the Planning Commission. The economist was addressing a seminar titled ‘Interrogating Cauvery Calling’ at the Asian College of Journalism on Saturday, meant to question the objectives of the campaign launched by the Isha Foundation’s social outreach initiative. It included a series of panel discussions headed by eminent environmentalists, academicians and policy makers.

In his keynote speech, Shah pointed to the inadequacy of riverside afforestation— the core theme of Cauvery Calling— as part of the initiative’s scheme to grow 242 crore trees along the river. He termed it a narrow outlook to a multifaceted problem, which required institutional policy change based on scientific facts, and not just spiritual fervour.

Jaggi Vasudev has previously made claims of recruiting farmers for planting timber trees along the banks of Cauvery with an aim to double their income. Shah raised doubts regarding Jaggi’s plans for the project, asking, “Is he going coerce the farmers into planting trees by stopping them from their work? Does Sadhguru (Jaggi Vasudev) understand why farmers grow the crops they do?”

According to the economist, Jaggi’s plan of earning revenues by growing commercially-viable trees was a consumerist approach, which does not befit the cultural ethos of the farming community that has been growing paddy for many years. However, the cultivation of these water-intensive crops by farmers (like paddy and sugarcane) dries up the river basin as it absorbs a majority of groundwater, he said.

He recommended the growth of public procurement crops like millets, pulses and oilseeds to conserve the groundwater. This would reduce the demand for water from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, eventually helping revive the Cauvery to its original glory.

Meanwhile, environmental activist Suprabha Seshan said that Jaggi’s proposed collection of Rs 10,000 crore for the campaign should instead be distributed to people along the river for its nourishment.

“The river can be revived through aiding the traditional practices of indigenous people and tribes living along the river,” Suprabha said. She opined that people living in the Cauvery delta region are better equipped to nourish and restore the river, without a large-scale commercial campaign. She added that financial and research assistance to these indigenous communities can help them mitigate the climate crisis, which has affected the health of the river. “Planting of trees is not enough because it’s a very simplified approach to a complex river ecosystem. It does not even include planting other varieties like shrubs or grasses that are proved to be more valuable for the environment.”

Jagdish Krishnaswamy of Ashoka Trust for Research, spoke on Jaggi’s inaction in stopping the destructive practices of industrialization on the river banks.

“Sadhguru has only a tree-centric approach, simple enough to mobilize the masses. However, it has failed to address real concerns such as challenging the construction of dams along Cauvery and extraction of minerals that are the prime threat to its existence,” he said.

The panelists urged for a reclamation of what has been lost in the process of commercialization of natural resources. 

Suprabha said, “The trees on the banks will only consume more ground water, reducing the water content available for the river.” She lobbied for agricultural diversification instead- incentivizing farmers and tribals along the river- to cultivate less water intensive crops.

Krishnaswamy recommended nourishment of the river by growing varieties of plant species along the river. “The money needs to go into the care of the region itself by empowering the indigenous communities, to provide them with adequate means to live sustainably.”

Source: The News Minute