THE UNION ministries for water and environment, the Delhi government and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) — the authorities Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had said were to blame for allowing his foundation, Art of Living (AOL), to hold the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains — told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Tuesday that they differed with his view.
Both the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Water Resources told the NGT that they were “not responsible” for the damage to the floodplains, and that they should not be the ones to pay the fine. The ministries told a bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar that they had “no role” in permitting the festival. “The DDA granted the permission. AOL conducted the event. We had no role to play and are not liable to pay for the damage,” the ministries said.
Ravi Shankar had in April said his foundation had obtained all necessary permissions, including from the NGT, and the event could have been stopped in the beginning if river Yamuna was so fragile and pure. DDA’s counsel, Rajiv Bansal, said, “I own complete responsibility for the event” but “DDA can’t be held liable for vicarious liability”. He also said it was “DDA’s interpretation” of the NGT’s 2015 order.
The DDA said permission was granted to AOL after making it clear that no permanent or semi-permanent structure was allowed on the riverbed. Further, the floodplains had not been demarcated at the time the permission was extended and so the DDA cannot specify if there was any impact on the floodplains.
“I was approached for seeking permission for the World Culture Festival, which was bonafidely given. I own complete responsibility for the event. According to my interpretation, NGT had not banned any event on the floodplains by its 2015 judgment,” he said. “They are asking us to pay for the damage,” DDA’s lawyer said about AOL. “But under which provision of law and for what? DDA can’t be held liable for vicarious liability. We were unaware about the size of the whole event at the time of granting permission,” he said.
The Delhi government maintained “limited responsibility” when it came to providing security for the festival and that said it had only granted no-objection certificates on behalf of Delhi Police and for law and order.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh, who represented petitioner Manoj Misra from Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, made a case for why Ravi Shankar should have realised the “mistake” instead of complicating the matter. He said Ravi Shankar was guilty of “scandalising” the court and should be held liable for criminal contempt of the court.
Summarising the series of events that has taken place over the last year, Parikh said, “Once you (AOL) have accepted the order of NGT and the findings of the expert panel appointed by it, they cannot say they have not caused any damage.” He urged the NGT that the initial amount of Rs 5 crore, which the AOL had deposited as environmental compensation be used for the rejuvenation of the floodplains.
“There is urgency because of the monsoons. The work should begin before rains arrive.” When the AOL’s counsel began arguments, the bench said the hearing will continue on May 11.
(With PTI inputs)