A committee appointed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) has recommended fining spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation Rs 120 crore for damage to Yamuna floodplains while making preparations for an event. The Art of Living Foundation plans to hold a World Culture Festival from March 11 to 13 on the banks of the river.
In its report, the committee comprising Prof A K Gosain, Prof Brij Gopal, Prof C R Prabhu and Shashi Shekhar, secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, has stated the event could have a severe environmental impact.
“… This amount should be collected from the foundation before the event and kept in a separate account monitored by the NGT. The entire ecological restoration of Yamuna’s (affected) sites must be completed within a year from the date of the completion of the festival,” states an excerpt from the report.
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.
Earlier this month, the NGT formed the committee due to discrepancies between the reports of Prof Gosain (member of the first inspection team) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
The NGT set up the committee in response to a petition by activist Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. In its report, the committee has stated that small water bodies, which existed earlier, have been filled up, and all natural vegetation removed, because of which birds and natural life that thrived there have disappeared. “Even most of the trees have been lopped or removed,” it said.
Gautam Vig, director of Art of Living, said they had abided by the DDA’s rules, including setting up chemical toilets that prevent the flow of sewage into the river.
‘Followed all guidelines’
The Art of Living asserted Sunday it followed all guidelines and directions of authorities and the NGT. “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,” said a statement by the foundation’s spokesperson. “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.”
The Art of Living claimed that in strict adherence to the NGT’s direction, it has not done any construction or concretisation at the site. “Further we have used only eco-friendly material like wood, mud, cloth, and scaffolding towards building a temporary stage…,” it said.
“We have not cleared any greenery or levelled the area by dumping any construction debris as alleged. The material used for construction of the temporary stage is not in any manner embedded in the river bed,” it added.
The programme venue is at a safe distance from the river bank, as promised to the authorities, and 650 bio-toilets are being installed to ensure that none of the waste is passed on to river Yamuna, said the spokesperson.
The temporary pontoon bridges also are being built with permission from authorities. No parking area has been created on the flood plains as alleged. Only a temporary pathway has been created to help people reach the venue, the spokesperson added.
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