THE National Green Tribunal (NGT) Wednesday cleared the three-day World Culture Festival to be organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living on the floodplains of the Yamuna from March 11 but imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL as an interim compensation for the event’s impact on the environment.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar directed AOL to deposit the fine before the event begins. It stated that the amount would be adjusted against final compensation to be determined based on a study to be conducted by a tribunal-mandated panel.
The tribunal asked the committee to submit a report within four weeks, ascertaining the steps and cost of restoration work at the site.
While ordering AOL to construct a biodiversity park in the area, the tribunal also levied fines of Rs 5 lakh and Rs 1 lakh, respectively, on the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for lapses while granting clearances.
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It came down heavily on DDA and DPCC and termed as “unacceptable” the Union Environment Ministry’s submission that AOL did not require environmental clearance for the event. The tribunal, however, noted that the various petitioners, including NGOs and activists, had not challenged the permission granted on June 30, 2015, by DDA for the event.
Reacting to the NGT order, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of AOL, stated in a tweet on his official account that he was not “satisfied” and that the foundation would appeal the order.
As the hearing got underway, the DDA stuck to its stand that the permission it had granted was legal as the event was of a recreational nature. But the tribunal pointed out that the construction of roads, ramps, pontoon bridges, accumulation of debris, and the alteration of topography and the natural flow of the Yamuna could not be viewed as cultural or recreational activity.
“The DDA ought to have applied its mind. Strangely enough, it has not carried out an inspection of the site prior to granting the permission nor during the operation or subsequent thereto,” the NGT order stated.
On the DPCC, the tribunal stated that it was unable to accept its submission that its consent was not required to carry out construction, and sewage and solid waste disposal measures. The tribunal rejected a similar stance adopted by the Union Environment Ministry and stated that it was contrary to the Environment Impact Assessment notification of 2006, especially regarding construction on land in excess of 50 hectares.
The tribunal further ordered AOL to obtain permission from police, the fire department and the Union Water Resources Ministry — it said all these authorities failed to carry out due diligence.
The tribunal constituted a committee of representatives of DPCC, the Union Environment Ministry and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which “should immediately” inspect the site and issue directions Thursday in relation to the source of water, and collection and disposal of solid waste and sewerage.
The counsel for AOL submitted that the organisers would not discharge any eco-enzymes into the Yamuna on the days of the event, as initially claimed to minimise the impact of sewage disposal.
Meanwhile, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati said her ministry had “no role” in granting or denying any permission to the organisers. The Minister added that she supported the event “as a political leader and social activist”.