A committee of experts, appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to assess the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplain in Delhi where the World Culture Festival of The Art of Living was held last March, has found that the “entire floodplain area used for the main event site” has been “completely destroyed” causing “invisible loss of biodiversity” that “may never be able to return”.
In its report, submitted to the NGT on July 28, the seven-member panel, headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, said “the entire floodplain area used for the main event site, i.e. between the DND flyover and Barapullah drain (on the right bank of river Yamuna) has been completely destroyed, not simply destroyed. The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened, totally devoid of water bodies or depressions, and almost completely devoid of any vegetation (except a few large cattails at the base of of the DND flyover)”.
The committee pointed out that its members were “prevented from making any study and were forced to retreat by the AOL volunteers on the site” on April 15, and that they visited the site again on June 6 “for a visual assessment”. It said its observations were supported by satellite images of the site taken on March 15 and May 10.
Reached for comments by The Indian Express, The Art of Living, in a statement, said, “The NGT is yet to hear our application for reconstitution of the committee.
Hence, it is not logical to take the report of the committee into consideration before our application is heard. Taking all facts into consideration, it is clear that the allegation of environmental damage are unscientific, biased and unsustainable. We will submit our objections to the report in detail once we have had a chance to go through it.”
These are the key findings of the committee:
* The main event site has been “totally destroyed by complete clearing of all kinds of vegetation on the floodplain (and loss of all dependent biodiversity), filling in of water bodies and all depressions, dumping of debris and garbage followed by levelling and heavy compacting of the ground”.
* “Most of the ecosystem functions of natural wetlands have been completely lost… This is an ‘invisible’ loss of biodiversity which cannot be easily assessed, and most may never be able to return. Far more significant changes are expected in the micro-organisms which are critical to the ecosystem functioning.”
* “Construction of ramps and roads, filling up of water bodies and levelling of the ground together with compaction have almost completely eliminated the natural physical features and diversity of habitats.”
* “Physical changes also occurred in the river channel due to the removal of riparian vegetation, construction of road and pontoon bridges, blocking of the side channel that would invariably disturb the flow and bottom sediments besides bringing in particulate material (sediments and organic matter) into it.”
* “The simplification of habitat into a flat land has eliminated all water bodies in the impacted area – shallow or deep form naturally in the floodplain. These water bodies control floods, help groundwater recharge, support vegetation, fish and other biodiversity. Overall, the floodwater retention capacity of the area has been severely compromised.”
* “The floodplain has lost almost all of its natural vegetation – trees, shrubs, reeds, tall grasses, aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth. The vegetation also includes numerous microscopic forms of algae, mosses and some ferns which inhabit the soil and water bodies. All of them have been destroyed in the area completely. Their total loss cannot be readily visualised and documented.”
* “The vegetation provides habitat, food and sites for breeding/nesting to a large number and kinds of animals including birds, fishes, frogs, turtles, insects and innumerable bottom and mud-dwelling organisms (molluscs, earthworms, insects, and various other micro and macroscopic invertebrates). These organisms were rendered homeless, driven away by the intense activity and many were consigned to their graves under the debris.”
The committee has told the NGT that it is “necessary” to get a detailed project report prepared by an independent agency which will also estimate costs for a restoration plan.
On August 10, the NGT said, “We grant liberty to the committee to engage any specialised agency if they so desire for which the Ministry concerned, that is Ministry of Water Resources, shall bear the expense. Let a report, may be tentative with the regard to costing factor, be submitted to the tribunal within 45 days.”
The NGT will hear the matter next on September 28.