The National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed committee has recommended a 120 crore fine on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation for causing massive damage to Yamuna floodplains during its preparations for World Culture Festival. The event is scheduled to be conducted from 11th to 13th March on the banks of Yamuna.
The NGT’s committee comprising Prof A K Gosain, Prof Brij Gopal, Prof C R Prabhu and Shashi Shekhar, secretary, Ministry of Water Resources has assessed that the Art of Living Foundation’s event could have a severe environmental impact and have said that “the entire ecological restoration of Yamuna’s (affected) sites must be completed within a year from the date of the completion of the festival”. It has suggested that the 120 crores penalty should be kept in separate NGT monitored account.
Despite this negative assessment and recommendation of collection of damages, the expert committee of NGT has not recommended cancellation of the Art of Living Foundation’s World Culture Festival. This event is supposed to be attended by 35 lakh people will result in trampling the delicate ecosystem of Yamuna floodplains.
Interestingly the first report of the inspection team was contradicted by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority). So on 19th February, the NGT ordered a fresh inspection of the site on Yamuna which recommended the 120 crore penalty from Art of Living.
The report does not seek cancellation of the event, but does, however, point out the harm that a crowd of more than 3.5 million people can cause the Yamuna’s delicate ecology. The committee has sought a revised plan from the organisers through a court affidavit and a detailed site map. The NGT has scheduled a hearing on March 1.
The venue spans an area of more than 1,000 acres. Structures including a 40-ft-high multi-stage, large white portable cabins and a makeshift parking lot are putting stress on the floodplains, as per the report.
However, the Art of Living has issued a statement asserting that its actions are within rules. It said that "the Art of Living has a huge regard for the environment. We have never violated nor do we have any intention to violate any laws of the country. We have followed and further undertake to follow all the guidelines, recommendations, directions of the honourable court and the authorities extending us the permission to hold the World Culture Festival".
It also said that "Further we have used only eco-friendly material like wood, mud, cloth, and scaffolding towards building a temporary stage for the purpose of holding a three-day festival," and asserted that they can do no wrong as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living has worked towards restoration of dying rivers in the country including the participation of its volunteers in Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna campaign in 2010. If this line of argument is believed than any one who has done good in the past won’t be penalized for illegalities in future.
"We have not blocked any river channel of river Yamuna by throwing any debris into it. The stage is temporary in nature and every bit of it will be removed after the event is over by the Art of Living. There are no concrete roads that have been made at the venue. Even the ramps made at the venue are only temporary and made of mud involving zero concrete. We have not cleared any greenery or levelled the area by dumping any construction debris as alleged. The material used towards construction of the temporary stage is not in any manner embedded in the river bed," it said.