Manoj Misra, the convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, an NGO working for the revival of river Yamuna, is a happy man.
Today he scored a victory in his three-month long fight against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation, which he said caused damage to the Yamuna floodplains ecosystem while preparing for its mega culture festival. Along with Misra, Anand Arya and Pramod Kumar Tyagi are the other two petitioners whose petitions led the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to slap a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL Foundation.
While coming down heavily on the government agencies for failing to carry out responsibilities, the principal bench of the NGT headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar asked AOL Foundation to pay an initial fine of Rs 5 crore as compensation, besides imposing fines of Rs 5 lakh on DDA and Rs 1 lakh on Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for failing to exercise due diligence in fulfilling their public duties.
During the final hearing today the tribunal expressed serious discontent on the way the ministries and government agencies functioned in granting permission to AOL Foundation to use the Yamuna floodplains to built huge structures for its upcoming World Culture Festival scheduled to be held between 11 March and 13 March.
“I’m still unable to reach the truth,” said Justice Swatanter Kumar during the pre-lunch session while slamming the foundation and all the government agencies for failing to provide information asked by the green tribunal.
Pulling up the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the NGT said, “What’s your primary duty? Isn’t your permission needed to conduct an event of this scale? Was an assessment done? Don't test our patience.”
Before pronouncing the verdict, the NGT chairperson quizzed AOL Foundation, MoEF, Water Resource Ministry, DDA and DPCC, and in most of the cases he expressed dissatisfaction over the functioning and ill-preparedness of the respondents.
Tough questions posed by NGT:
To DPCC: Whether it has ever seen such construction for a cultural festival before and where would the waste from the festival be dumped? We are unable to accept the contention raised on behalf of the DPCC that it was not obligatory upon the DPCC to grant and/or refuse the consent to the Foundation for making such construction and the manner in which it would deal with the sewerage, municipal solid waste generated and the source of water supply for holding such a huge gathering at the event. It has failed to exercise due diligence and in fact, it has exercised its authority improperly in taking a stand that no orders were called from the board in the facts and circumstances of the case. [Thus, we impose costs of Rs. 1 lakh on DPCC.]
To MoEF: Over clearance to an event of such grand scale in Delhi and why no assessment done.
To Ministry of Water Resources and the Delhi government: Whether they have any plans regarding the source of water to be supplied at the event.
To Ministry of Water Resources: River is your asset and property. Development, management, protecting it from pollution, etc are your job.
To DDA: Why no inspection was conducted prior to giving permission to the foundation? The permission granted by the DDA is not in consonance with the orders of the NGT and in fact is in excess of the powers vested in DDA which runs contrary to the spirit of the judgment of the Tribunal. The DDA ought to have applied its mind. [Consequently, we impose a cost of Rs 5 lakh on DDA for its defaults and non-performance of its statutory functions.]
To Government of NCT of Delhi: The permission granted by Government of NCT of Delhi is of no consequence as it is not the competent authority for rights over the river and in any case, it was a permission for only flood situation as is evident from the bare reading of the permission.
To AOL Foundation: For the damage caused to the environment, ecology, biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the Foundation should be held liable for its restoration in all respects. It has not obtained any permission as yet from the Police Department, Fire Department and from the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, which undisputedly, in terms of the Notification dated 31July, 2014 is the Authority responsible for conservation, development, management and control of water pollution of River Yamuna.
Judgment: Key Takeaways
· Principal Committee to submit a report within four weeks from today on steps to be taken for restoration, restitution and rejuvenation of the flood plains to its original status. It will also state the approximate cost that would have to be incurred for the purpose.
· For the reason of delay and lapses on the part of the applicant (petitioners) in approaching the Tribunal and for the reason of fait accompli capable of restoration and restitution, we are unable to grant the prayer of prohibitory order and a mandatory direction for removal of construction and restoration of the area in question to the applicant at this stage.
· AOL Foundation provided incomplete, vague and uncertain information, since it did not provide any specific data, supporting documents, comprehensive plan with regard to carrying on of such a huge construction, levelling activity and also construction of other approach roads, pontoon bridges, ramps, parking and a huge stage admeasuring 40 ft. high, 1000 ft. long and 200 ft. wide to any of the Authorities. This must lead to drawing of adverse inference against the Foundation. The Foundation would be liable to pay compensation
“For the damage caused to the environment, ecology, biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the Foundation should be held liable for its restoration in all respects… We impose an Environmental Compensation, initially of Rs 5 crores, which would be paid by the Foundation prior to the commencement of the event. This amount would be adjusted towards the final compensation determined to be paid by the Foundation for restoration work,” added Justice Kumar.
The arithmetic of compensation
According to legal experts, the NGT imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on the Foundation as compensation, which is “initial in nature”. It’s as based on the cost of the project, expert committees’ reports and the assessment of the tribunal.
“NGT has appointed a principal committee which will calculate the final amount of compensation that AOL Foundation will have to pay. Rs 5 crore is the initial amount which is to be paid immediately,” senior advocate Sanjay Parikh told Firstpost.
What the petitioners say?
“It’s a strong judgment. The tribunal has stated that everybody failed to perform duties, especially DDA. We wrote repeatedly to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the L-G, but to no effect, till we filed petition on 8 February,” said Misra.
“Illegality of AOL Foundation has been proved and it’s a slap on them for blatantly violating environmental law. This is proved in the court. My personal opinion is that the punishment awarded is not commensurate with violation done by them,” remarked environment expert Anand Arya.