New Delhi: Art of Living (AoL) foundation on Friday expressed its inability to pay the "remaining green fine" of Rs 4.75 crore to the National Green Tribunal that was levied against it in lieu of alleged environment destruction caused by its World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplanes last month.
The foundation said it can only give a bank guarantee for it.
Petitioner Manoj Misra's lawyer, Sanjay Parikh, has alleged that Art of Living did not intend to pay the penalty and was only "beating around the bush" since the beginning of the case.
“They are doing so consistently from the very beginning. First they lied to the court in a sense that they don't have money to pay for the environment destruction their event had caused. Although the ministry of culture had released Rs 1.5 crore for the event, they told the court that they don't have any money and got away by paying just Rs 25 lakh in place of Rs 5 crore,” Parikh told IANS.
The development comes amid reports of threats from Islamic State militants to AoL head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Parikh also expressed the apprehension that AoL was trying to get the 9 March NGT order nullified. The NGT in its judgment had established that there was “environment destruction caused to Yamuna Flood plains by the World Culture Festival” and instructed a principal committee “to verify the quantum of destruction occurred after inspecting.”
“AoL knows that principle committee's report will be against them. So they are creating hurdles in their inspection. Now they are saying that they will decide on their own if at all any destruction has been caused to the flood planes by their event,” Parikh said.
Meanwhile, officials from Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) confirmed, they are not ready with the inspection report yet.
The NGT committee comprised officials from DPCC, National Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment and Forest Conservation and Union Water Resource ministry.
AoL, though, countered the allegations insisting they have no hesitation to pay the money. "We have only asked for a change in the modalities of payment.”
The change, according to them: “We have no objection to pay the penalty if at all any damage has been done to the flood planes. We have just informed the NGT that we may like to pay in form of a bank guarantee than cash in this case,” AoL lawyer Akshama Nath told IANS.
Replying to the question on creating hindrance in the way of NGT committee's inspection, Nath blamed the delay in preparing the report on “inter-departmental miscommunication.”
“There was some confusion among the officials who visited the site for inspection and the higher up in the hierarchy of their department,” Nath said.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Development Authority has also expressed apprehensions that AoL may not pay the penalty to restore the damage done to the flood planes. They said a bank guarantee was not enough.
“If they had to do so they would have done that long back. The three weeks for paying full fine of Rs 5 crore lapsed on 1 April. The NGT committee is not at a stage to submit its report within stipulated deadline of eight weeks. If there is no report AoL's probability of depositing the penalty is bleak,” DDA officials concerned with the case, who did not want to be named, told IANS.
In fact, a four-member expert committee of NGT had said in its report that World Culture Festival organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation had destroyed parts of the flood-plains of Yamuna and it would require at least Rs 120 crore to restore the area to its original state.
The expert committee headed by Water Resources Secretary Shashim Shekhar was assisted by AK Gosain, a professor of IIT-Delhi, CR Babu and Brij Gopal.
Response by The Art of Living:
To report that The Art of Living "cannot' pay the remaining amount is factually erroneous. As the organisation's lawyer has clarified that it has no hesitation in paying the money, but has only asked for change in modalities of payment.
The NGT has not imposed any fine on the organisation.
The Tribunal in its interim order dated March 11, 2016 has categorically stated, "We make it clear that we have imposed a sum of Rs 5 cr initially as an 'environmental compensation' in exercise of our jurisdiction in terms of section 15 & 17 of the NGT Act and not a penalty (fine) in terms of section 26 of the NGT Act. The least we can expect from a journalist is responsible and factual reporting. Kindly understand the difference and report only facts.
Ample space has been given to the petitioner Manoj Mishra's lawyer Mr. Parikh, whose statements are filled with falsehoods and conjecture. To accuse Art of Living of "lying to the court by saying it did not have the money to pay for the environment destruction their event caused" is another statement that we strongly object to. As a trust, we were unable to immediately furnish the Rs. 5 crore which the court kindly agreed to and allowed for the 25 L deposit.
To say that the event caused environmental destruction as though it was a foregone conclusion is precisely what the Art of Living is challenging in court. Who has quantified the damage to the floodplain and how?
The NGT's Principal Committee visually inspected The World Culture Festival's ground for one hour and pronounced a reparation fee of Rs.100-120 crore, then later Rs. 5 crore based merely on VISUAL assessment. No sampling, or scientific assessment was undertaken. This raises many questions regarding the credibility of the Principal Committee.
In another assumption made by Parikh, he says "Art of Living knows that the Principal Committee's report will be against them". He obviously knows something we don't which raises more questions about the working ethics of the committee itself.
Regarding creating "hurdles" for inspection of the land, the facts are grossly misrepresented. The inspection team arrived unannounced at the venue two days before the Art of Living handed over the land to the DDA. In a letter dated April 1, 2016, which the inspection team had written to the NGT court, they clearly stated that they would begin their inspection only once the organisation vacates the land and hands it back to the DDA. Following which DDA will have to inform them.
However, they arrived with huge JCB machines without informing anybody and before the land had been handed over by us to the DDA. Once we informed them of the court proceedings and their own letter pertaining to it, they decided that they would postpone their inspection till we had vacated the land.
On 18 April 2015, the grounds were returned to the DDA greener and cleaner than when it was handed to us.
The Art of Living has been subjected to an onslaught of negative publicity thanks to Mr. Mishra's baseless complaint to the NGT. The court itself asked Mr Mishra why he had woken up just 20 days before the event was scheduled. For someone who runs the "Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan" we echo the same. We wonder how, under his very watchful gaze, huge, permanent, destructive constructions including the Akshardham Temple, Delhi Secretariat, Delhi Metro, the Commonwealth Games Village, the Delhi Millennium Bus Depot, Sonia Vihar and Batla house which are spread, for all to see on the 3000 sq kms. of these very floodplains, never drew any protests, let alone media coverage, the likes of which the Art of Living was and continues to be subjected to.
So suffice it to say that if the headline of an article is misleading, can the article itself be far behind? We hope that in future you will be more mindful of the facts and your reporters present their stories in a fair and unbiased manner.
(Editor's note: The original article was an IANS report.)