Damage to Yamuna floodplains: NGT slams AoL head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for his 'shocking' blame-game

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday slammed the Art of Living over its founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar blaming the Centre and the green panel for damage to the Yamuna floodplains, terming it as "shocking". "You have no sense of responsibility. Who gave you liberty to speak whatever you want to. It is shocking ," a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.

A day after spiritual figure and founder of Art of Living foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar blamed the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for permitting his NGO to hold the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna river bed, NGT slammed him and said that the founder's statement was shocking. The tribunal has directed AOL and other parties to file their reply and objections to expert panel report on Yamuna floodplain damage due to the AOL cultural extravaganza — World Culture Festival.

The observations came after advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for petitioner Manoj Misra, informed the bench about Ravi Shankar's recent statement blaming the government and the NGT for permitting his NGO to hold the World Culture Festival on the floodplains of river Yamuna. Parikh told the green bench that the spiritual guru has gone to the extend of levelling allegations against the NGT. The lawyer said that Sri Sri had posted the statement on the website of the Art of Living, his Facebook page and also addressed the media on the same in a written statement.

The counsel appearing for the AOL foundation, however, contested the findings of the expert panel and said that they have certain objections with regard to the findings of the committee and sought setting aside of the report.

Ravi Shankar had said that the NGT and the Centre should be held responsible if any environmental damage was caused. The AOL head said the foundation had obtained all necessary permissions, including from the green panel, and the event could have been stopped in the beginning itself if river Yamuna was so fragile and pure.

"If, at all, any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and state governments and the NGT itself, for giving the permission. If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival," Ravi Shankar said in a Facebook post.

Ravi Shankar accused the NGT of defying all principles of natural justice and said "a historic programme deserving of applause and appreciation is unjustly projected as a crime".

"World over, cultural programmes are held on riverbanks. The whole idea was to bring awareness to save the river. The Art of Living that has rejuvenated 27 rivers, planted 71 million trees, revived several ponds is being projected as destroying a dead river. What a joke," he said.

"The AOL had obtained all the necessary permission including the NGT’s. The NGT had the application file for two months and they could have stopped it in the beginning. It defies all principles of natural justice that you give permissions and slap a fine for not violating any rules," AOL founder read.

In a statement AOL spokesperson Soumya Ghosh said, "The NGT can never get over the blot it has bought on itself by delaying natural justice to AOL and allowing its own committee to malign the law abiding organisation in the press." An expert committee had told the NGT that a whopping Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore Yamuna floodplains which was ravaged due to a cultural extravaganza organised by AOL last year.

World-Culture-Festival_1Tarique_380The expert panel has suggested that there would be two components of rehabilitation plan — physical and biological, and they would cost Rs 28.73 crore and Rs 13.29 crore respectively, besides additional ancillary expenses.

On 12 April, an expert committee told the NGT that whopping Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore Yamuna floodplains which was ravaged due to the cultural extravaganza. The expert panel had suggested that there would be two components of rehabilitation plan — physical and biological, and they would cost Rs 28.73 crore and Rs 13.29 crore respectively, besides additional ancillary expenses.

The AOL had then termed the findings of the panel as "biased" and alleged that expert committee's report has been leaked to the media without serving them a copy. "The Art of Living is a responsible and environment-sensitive NGO. We have never caused any damage to the environment but have in fact worked for preserving and reviving it through various environment-related projects over the years. Our legal team will study the report and decide on the appropriate future course of action," AOL said in a release.

The NGT-appointed panel elaborated the timeline and the mechanism to be undertaken to ensure revival of the riverbed. The tribunal had constituted the committee last year which was headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, and senior scientists and experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, IIT-Delhi and other agencies to inspect the site of the World Culture Festival.

The seven-member panel had said that the physical component should be taken up immediately and completed in two years' time, while the biological aspect should be initiated simultaneously which would take 10 years. Besides the two components, the rehabilitation of the floodplain would also require funds to meet the expenses of a team of experts for next 10 years along with the cost of transportation of material outside the riverbed, the committee said.

These estimates are approximate and need to be strengthened through commissioning of Detailed Project Report, it said. Implementation of the action plan requires extensive monitoring for which the NGT may consider creating an appropriate body/team of experts, the panel said in its 31-page report. In it recommendations to the NGT, the expert committee said that major restoration work has to be carried out to compensate for the damage to Yamuna floodplains.

Art of Living chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Art of Living chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Advocate Kush Sharma, who represented the Delhi Development Authority, refused to comment on the findings in the report and said they were going through the contents. The green body had last year allowed AOL to hold three-day World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains while expressing its helplessness in banning the event because of "fait accompli".

It, however, had imposed Rs 5 crore as interim environment compensation on the foundation for the event's impact on the environment after Yamuna activist Manoj Mishra alleged that AOL was violating NGT orders. Initially, a four member-committee had recommended that AOL Foundation should pay Rs 100-120 crore as restoration cost for "extensive and severe damage" to the floodplains of Yamuna river.

Later, a seven-member expert committee had told NGT that the extravaganza organised on Yamuna riverbed has "completely destroyed" the riverbed. The committee had observed that entire floodplain area used for the main event site between DND flyover and the Barapulla drain (on the right bank of river Yamuna) has been completely destroyed, not simply damaged. "The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation.

"The area where the grand stage was erected (and the area immediately behind it) is heavily consolidated -- most likely with a different kind of external material used to level the ground and compress it. Huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps for access from the DND flyover and from the two pontoon bridges across the Barapulla drain," the expert committee had said.

The earlier committee, in its 47-page report, has said that due to the three-day event, the floodplain has lost "almost all its natural vegetation" like trees, shrubs, tall grasses, aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth which provides habitat to large number of animals, insects and mud-dwelling organisms.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: Apr 20, 2017 03:27 pm | Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 03:26 pm