On Thursday, the National Green Tribunal’s judgment on the damage caused by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation (AoL) on the Yamuna floodplain squarely put the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) at the heart of the “entire controversy”. “It needs to be noticed with some emphasis that the entire controversy in the present case revolves around the grant of permission by DDA. The floodplain and the entire land in question is the property of the DDA and the state of UP. The prime responsibility to upkeep the floodplain of river Yamuna falling in NCT Delhi primarily lies upon DDA,” the judgment stated.
The judgment goes on to detail letters exchanged between AoL and DDA ranging from February to December of 2015 for permission to host the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplain. Consider this:
* February 26, 2015: AoL applies to DDA for obtaining permission for holding the World Culture Festival on DDA land situated next to DND.
* March 20, 2015: Instructs AoL to provide requisite information including information on area required, period etc. However, the judgment notes here: “For reasons best known to DDA, they treated letter dated 20th March, 2015, as permission.”
* April 24/30, 2015: AoL furnishes certain documents
* May 18, 2015: Withdrew permission granted in letter dated March 20, 2015, stating that the permitted land is within active floodplain of the Yamuna, where the NGT had banned all types of activities. Asks AoL to propose alternative sites.
* June 11, 2015: AoL once again makes a request stating that they should be given permission to hold the event. Make assurances that they will not carry out any activity which will go against NGT’s directions or cause any pollution.
* June 30, 2015: DDA withdraws letter dated May 18, 2015 and treats letter dated March, 20, 2015 as permission, with certain conditions.
* October 16, 2015: In response to DDA asking for land allotment charges, AoL says it is a charitable institution and the festival is a non-commercial event. Asks for the charges to be waived.
* November 30, 2015: DDA not only declines to waive charges but states temporary allotment of land near DND, on the banks of river Yamuna, has been rejected. Once again requests AoL to choose alternative site.
* December 4, 2015: AoL reiterates request for allotment of said land to go ahead with the event.
* December 11, 2015: DDA grants permission for holding the cultural event subject to conditions. States L-G of Delhi has approved temporary allotment of land for the festival. AoL is asked to deposit Rs 15 lakh as security deposit (refundable as per rules). Stated maintenance of sanitation at the site will be AoL’s responsibility.
* December 15, 2015: Subsequent letter from DDA deletes condition that requires AoL to take approval from NGT. But AoL asked to take permission from various other authorities.
In January 2015, the NGT had passed an order to implement the ‘Maily Se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation Project, 2017’ — a roadmap to restore the floodplain, address the question of flow into the river, and take action to eliminate pollution. While the DDA and the AoL were exchanging these letter, environmentalist Manoj Misra, who went on to become the petitioner in the case, in December 2015 learnt about the festival from local farmers and the festival’s website.
By the end of February 2016, in response to a petition filed by Misra, the NGT expressed helplessness in banning the event, citing “fait accompli”. However, it levied an interim environmental compensation of Rs 5 crore on AoL.