FROM temporary structures to pontoon bridges, the impact of lakhs of visitors to available parking space — and a quick U-turn by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
On Tuesday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) questioned governments at the Centre, Delhi and UP about various clearances for the World Culture Festival to be held by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led Art of Living (AOL) from March 11-13 on the banks of the Yamuna.
After hearing submissions from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Water Resources, the UP and Delhi governments, DDA and petitioners, Manoj Mishra and Anand Arya, the NGT sought an affidavit from the two union ministries. It will hear the matter again on Wednesday.
Directing the environment ministry to submit evidence, NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar said: “Please file an affidavit tomorrow explaining why there is no clearance required for temporary structures.”
The ministry had earlier told the bench that its team visited the venue and found no debris, as alleged. Its counsel Rahul Pratap added that according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification 2006, no clearance for temporary structures was required.
The bench also asked DDA how permission was granted for two pontoon bridges being constructed for the event. While the UP government said its permission was relevant only during floods, the DDA said it was only required to give AOL a no-objection certificate.
Responding to these statements, the NGT’s Principal Bench said, “Your team has visited the spot and its first three pages has made note of the impacts the structures have had on the ecology and biodiversity in the area.”
DDA counsel Rajiv Bansal stated that permission for the event was granted on the basis that no permanent structures would be constructed. “The zone which the land in question falls under is usable for recreational activity on the condition that no construction of a permanent nature will be made. Further, the permission we granted also explicitly stated that it will be subject to permissions from other concerned authorities,” he said.
In the previous hearing on March 3, DDA had said permission had been granted only for 24.4 hectares of land. But reports by the NGT-constituted expert committee recorded damage on 50-60 hectares of land.
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In addition, the DDA had revoked permission in November 2015 on the grounds that the expected footfall was too large for the area concerned before doing a U-turn on December 15, 2015. Taking note of this, the Principal Bench asked AOL, “Given the reasons for the cancellation of the permission of the event, on what grounds was the permission given to you again?”
The Tribunal also raised questions regarding the expected footfall for the event, stating that DDA’s initial cancellation came as a result of the turnout being “too large”. The tribunal asked AOL to make clear the number of participants to which the counsel said 2-3 lakh people per day were expected. Earlier promotions for the event, however, had stated that the event will host close to a total of 35 lakh people over three days.
In its submission, AOL said that it had taken the requisite permissions from all authorities except police, which is subject to permission from the fire department which will come after the completion of the stage.
On parking space at the venue, Savitri Pandey, counsel for the UP government, submitted that they had allocated 15 hectares of land on the floodplain. The counsel stated, “We have given parking permission for three days as permission can be given when there is no damage from temporary construction.”
The bench responded by asking, “Will the parking of several vehicles on the floodplain for three days not have a permanent impact on the floodplain?”