The Art of Living Foundation (AOL) Monday accused the expert committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal of distorting “actual facts” to “deliberately mislead” the tribunal on the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains. AOL’s counsel said the expert panel had gone beyond its jurisdiction to recommend rehabilitation of the floodplains, and that there has been “non-application of mind” by the panel. AOL also maintained that there were “no tests or technical data” to support the allegations against it. In March last year, AOL had held the World Culture Festival over three days on the Yamuna floodplains. Subsequently, an NGT-appointed expert panel had pegged the damage at over Rs 42 crore. On Monday, AOL’s counsel Nikhil Sakhardande made submissions in front of the bench, headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar.
AOL raised doubts over the satellite images used by the panel to estimate the damage. The lawyer said the report was based on a single satellite image dated September 5, 2015, taken during peak monsoon season to show that wetlands existed where the event was held. “This is distortion of facts to deliberately mislead the tribunal. Rainfall statistics for the year 2015 clearly show the satellite image is a depiction of ground conditions saturated due to the monsoon which was abnormally high,” he said. “This is completely extraneous, irrelevant… it misrepresents the ground conditions and is a clear case of selection bias on part of the committee.”
Citing both reports by the panel, dated July 28 and November 28, 2016, the counsel said the accusation laid on AOL of compacting the land was not supported by any test reports of technical data. He added that the panel had “erroneously” considered an area of 170 hectares for its assessment even though “there is no evidence on record to show that any area exceeding 25 hectares was used for the event”. The counsel also submitted satellite images to the bench to show the “exact area” in which the event was held, according to AOL.
A discussion on the meaning of rehabilitation and restoration also ensued in court. While the bench said restoration was inclusive of rehabilitation, AOL’s counsel saw the two terms as separate and said that in this case, the expert panel behaved in “excess of jurisdiction and contrary to Section 15 of the NGT Act”.