The National Green Tribunal on Thursday lashed out at the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation saying that it had “no sense of responsibility”. “Just because you have filed an application doesn’t give you the liberty to say whatever you want to. It is shocking,” NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said.
The tribunal’s reaction came after lawyers for the petitioners told the bench about a statement made by the foundation head, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
In that, he had said: “NGT can never get over the blot it has brought on itself by delaying natural justice to The Art of Living… The Art of Living had obtained all the necessary permission including the NGT’s… If, at all, any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and State Governments and the NGT, itself, for giving the permission.”
The tribunal is hearing a petition against the foundation for holding a three-day cultural festival on the Yamuna floodplain.
Though the petitioners had approached the tribunal almost a few weeks before the festival, NGT had allowed the festival saying petitioners had approached them late and it was “fait accompli”. The foundation was fined Rs 5 crore for alleged damage to the floodplain. The expert committee estimated Rs 42.02 crore as the cost for restoration. Hours after the hearing, AOL issued a statement saying it has requested the bench to hear its application on the alleged “bias” of the committee.
“Counsel of Manoj Misra (petitioner) read out the statement from the Art of Living website. The tribunal did not consider it. Media reports about the NGT coming down heavily on the Art of Living are not true,” a statement from AOL said.
The expert committee had said that the restoration of the floodplain would take 10 years and Rs 42.02 crore. It had suggested two components of the rehabilitation plan — physical and biological, which would cost Rs 28.73 crore and Rs l3.29 crore respectively, besides additional ancillary expenses.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, after the report came out, said in a statement, “If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival at the very beginning. A historic programme, deserving of applause and appreciation, is unjustly projected as a crime!” He asked “all honest environmentalists to study the case and unveil the truth.” He added: “I have full faith in the Indian judiciary and am confident that our courts shall uphold the truth.”