The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Thursday questioned the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for granting the Art of Living Foundation permission to conduct its World Culture Festival on the floodplains of the Yamuna between Mayur Vihar and the DND Flyway.
Advocate Rajiv Bansal representing the DDA said, “The DDA was not informed about the scale of the event when the permission was initially granted.” In response, the principal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar asked, “Was it not incumbent on the DDA to see what was happening on the site and the magnitude of the programme?”
An expert committee appointed by the NGT has recommended imposing a fine of Rs 120 crore on the Art of Living Foundation for damage to Yamuna floodplains while making preparations for the event.
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The committee was constituted because of the discrepancy between Prof Ajay Gosain’s (member of the first inspection team) report and the DDA’s report, which gave the foundation a clean chit.
In November 2015, DDA had cancelled permission for the event on the grounds that the expected gathering would be too large for the floodplains to endure.
However, the permission was granted again on December 15, 2015. The DDA stated that the permission was reconsidered after the Art of Living Foundation stated they had already made large-scale preparations for the event.
The DDA also cited the expert committee’s report saying, “… even the committee’s report does not call for the event to be cancelled, it only recommends a fine.”
On the matter of land levelling that has taken place and has been pointed out in three reports presented to the tribunal, the DDA said they had ordered the Art of Living Foundation to seek the NGT’s permission for such work on December 21, 2015, in a letter, as the order of January 2015 prohibits permanent alterations to the land.
The tribunal has stated the matter will be heard next week and a representative from Uttar Pradesh will need to be present for questioning regarding a pontoon bridge constructed for the event.
DDA stands by nod for festival
DDA has said it granted permission for the World Culture Festival after “assessing all requisite parameters.”
The festival has found itself in the centre of a controversy for allegedly flouting environmental norms. DDA officials admitted that permission to hold such an event on Yamuna bank had not been granted earlier, adding that an exception was made due to the ‘nature’ of the festival.
“We cannot comment on the issue since it is sub judice but we do stand by the permission granted for it. A competent authority has given approval after analysing the implications and taking opinion from all relevant quarters,” J P Agarwal, principal commissioner (land disposal), DDA, told The Indian Express.
No licence fee has been imposed on the event as it is a ‘cultural’ one but a security deposit has been taken from the organisers, said officials.
“Several terms and conditions have been imposed on the organisers. No permanent or pucca construction is allowed at the site to ensure that everything that comes up there can be removed after the event. The use of an eco-friendly structure is mandatory and so is the restoration of environmental conditions,” said a senior DDA official.
Explaining why permission was granted for the festival, the official said, “In the past, DDA might not have given permission for events on the river bank but an exception was made in this case as it is an event for cultural emancipation and involves yoga and music. This event is spiritual in nature and permissions for such events are usually granted.”