Under NGT scrutiny, Art of Living to train Environment Ministry staff

The Environment Ministry has nominated 36 officers from different states and asked the state forest departments to ensure that “they are relieved in time” for the course.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: October 27, 2017 4:09 pm
sri sri ravi shankar, art of living, aol, aol world culture festival, environetn minister, NGT, Art of Living Foundation, Indian Forest Service, Environment Ministry, Climate Change, National Green Tribunal, Art of Living fine, World Culture Festival, yamuna river, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. (File photo)

The Art of Living Foundation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will coach Indian Forest Service officers of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on ‘Building Competencies for Personal Excellence’ at a ‘one-week compulsory training course’, to be held at the foundation’s international headquarters in Bengaluru this December.

The foundation, empanelled under the DoPT’s ‘In-Service Training Scheme’ since 2016, has conducted three similar training programmes commissioned by the department for all wings of the all-India services since November 2016, where the participants were mostly IAS officers.

“The December 18-22 programme will be our first for forest officers alone. But I cannot share the details of this or previous training programmes as these are private contracts between us and the government,” said Pushp Dant, national director (government programmes) of Art of Living.

Asked about the decision to send forest officers for training to an organisation embroiled in a legal battle with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Siddhanta Das, Director General, Environment Ministry, said the two issues were unrelated.

In the case, Art of Living had refused to pay Rs 5 crore as initial “environment compensation” for the alleged damage caused to the flood plains of Yamuna because of construction activities during its World Culture Festival. The Environment Ministry was also pulled up by the NGT in the case for submitting that temporary constructions on the flood plains did not require any environmental clearance, which contradicted its earlier affidavit that any kind of construction on the flood plains was illegal.

“The (NGT) case should not be linked to this training programme, which has nothing to do with matters of forest administration. We send small batches of officers for such programmes to different government and private institutes. It’s a routine matter,” Das told The Indian Express.

The Environment Ministry has nominated 36 officers from different states and asked the state forest departments to ensure that “they are relieved in time” for the course. The ministry’s letter to Art of Living advised that the foundation should expect 70 per cent attendance, for making plans for accommodation.

The Art of Living’s proposal to the ministry mentioned Rs 6,500 (plus taxes) per participant per day as fees. The ministry’s sanction letter to the NGO, however, put the course fee at Rs 15,000 per participant, plus Rs 7,500 as reimbursement for boarding/ lodging during the course.

“Other than reimbursements, we are paying a nominal course fee of about Rs 6 lakh for the entire batch,” said Suneesh Buxy, Deputy Inspector General (Research and Training), Environment Ministry. A committee headed by the Director General (Forests) had decided on the training programmes, Buxy said, and picked “the suitable trainer institute” from the ones empanelled under the DoPT.

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