Yamuna floodplains: Rs 42 crore needed to repair damage caused by Art of Living festival, says NGT panel

A seven-member expert committee, set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to study the ecological damage caused to Yamuna floodplain allegedly by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation, in its 31-page report has stated that it would cost Rs 42 crore towards restoration and rehabilitation of the damaged site.

The panel in its report has recommended an action plan for physical restoration of the plain and ecological rehabilitation of flora and fauna, suggesting earliest implementation with extensive monitoring by a team of experts.

NGT Committee Report on AOL by Firstpost on Scribd

"The suggested plan has two components—physical and biological—of ecological rehabilitation of the site, which would cost Rs 42 crore along with expenditure on the monitoring by a team of experts for 10 years and cost of transportation of material outside the floodplain,” the report mentioned. While, the physical component will cost Rs 28.73 crore, which should be completed in two years’ period, the biological component is estimated to cost Rs 13.29 crore and required to be accomplished over a period of 10 years.

"Now, we hope that the process of restoration of the devastated flood plains shall start in right earnest. The case is still on. Next date of hearing is on 20 April, when action on this report shall be decided by the NGT,” Manoj Misra, convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, an NGO working for the restoration of the river told Firstpost, after NGT made the report public on Wednesday. Misra is also a petitioner in this case against AOL. The expert committee, headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary of Ministry of Water Resources, has informed the green panel that major restoration work has to be carried out to compensate for the damage to Yamuna floodplains.

The NGT ordered formation of a seven-member committee in June 2016 with a direction that the panel would study the environmental damage and degradation caused by holding the World Culture Festival (WCF) on Yamuna floodplains and the environmental compensation payable for restoration of the floodplain.

A file photo of the cite where the World Culture Festival was being held. Image courtesy: Firstpost

A file photo of the cite where the World Culture Festival was being held. Image courtesy: Firstpost

AOL had organised a three-day international event — World Culture Festival from 11-13 March, 2016, in which lakhs of visitors from across the globe participated. "It has been estimated that approximately 120 hectares (about 300 acres) of floodplains of west (right bank) of the river Yamuna and about 50 hectares (120 acres) floodplains of the eastern side (left bank) of the river have been adversely impacted ecologically at different magnitudes,” the report mentioned.

The expert panel, in its stinging report submitted in 2016 to a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar had observed that “the entire floodplain area used for the main event site, namely 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."

However, ahead of the festival the green tribunal allowed AOL to hold the three-day festival, while expressing its helplessness in banning the event because of ‘fait accompli’. Simultaneously, the NGT had imposed Rs 5 core as interim environment compensation on AOL foundation. It also recommended a fine of Rs 120 crore on them for violation of ecological norms.

“The Yamuna floodplain is a highly sensitive ecological zone. To organise its culture festival, the AOL Foundation has illegally cleared the entire stretch of wetland and marshy area. It’s total devastation and we fail to understand how the person (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), an apostle of non-violence and spiritualism can allow it,” Misra had told Firstpost in March 2016. Firstpost had extensively reported the issue in 2016.

Previous committees

In the past, the NGT had set up a three-member committee and a four-member committee respectively in 2014 and 2015 to look into various aspects of Yamuna floodplain.

Again in February 2016, a four-member committee visited the festival site when AOL’s preparation was in full swing. After making an in-depth study, the committee in its report had recommended that “AOL should be made responsible for funding the restoration plan as a penalty and a total cost of restoration of the floodplain will be in the order of Rs 100-120 crore.”

Another co-petitioner and environmentalist Anand Arya remarked, "Following the damning report of damage to flood plain, the expert committee submitted its report in November 2016 on the restoration costs. After five months’ delay, it has just been released by NGT today. Besides, estimated restoration cost of Rs 42 crore, at the minimum, Rs 9 crore worth of ground water recharge is already lost in 2016-17 and another Rs 9 crore would be lost in 2017-18 before the work is sanctioned and begins. This loss is Rs 90 crore over a period of 10 years it would take to restore. We would be filing our response to this report in NGT soon.”

Limitation of the present report

The committee’s report has mentioned that there are certain constraints/ limitation to ecological restoration of the site. “It is extremely difficult to assess the cost of environmental damage and degradation accurately as it requires various resources including manpower and time to collect quantitative details on the nature, extent and magnitude of various activities undertaken by AOL while setting up the paraphernalia during WCF,” a source close to the committee told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2017 13:26:29 IST

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