THE NATIONAL Green Tribunal (NGT) paved the way for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) to go ahead with its World Culture Festival, barely hours before the three-day event was to start Friday, by allowing the organisers to deposit — for now — just five per cent of the penalty it had imposed on them.
With Sri Sri saying that he would go to jail but “not pay the fine” of Rs 5 crore as AOL had done nothing wrong, the tribunal clarified that the amount was to be considered as “environmental compensation” and not as a “penalty on non-compliance”.
On Wednesday, the NGT had said that the organisers would be levied an interim penalty of Rs 5 crore as compensation for environmental damage the event may cause to the venue on the Yamuna floodplains.
On Friday, the tribunal ruled that AOL needed to deposit only Rs 25 lakh now, while granting it three weeks to pay the entire amount. It had earlier said that if the full amount was not paid prior to the event, “law would take its course”.
The tribunal, however, took objection to Sri Sri’s remarks on refusing to pay the fine. “When a man of his stature makes such statements, it hits the very rule of law. If anybody hurts the image of the tribunal, he will be taken to rule of law,” stated the bench, headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar.
Considering AOL’s plea that it was difficult for a charitable organisation to generate the “huge amount” in such a short period, the bench asked it to pay Rs 25 lakh immediately failing which the grant of Rs 2.5 crore sanctioned for the event by the Union Culture Ministry would be attached.
The counsel appearing for AOL submitted that Sri Sri’s statement was made in the context that it would be difficult for the AOL foundation to pay the full amount now.
“Certainly, adherence to the rule of law is the duty of not only the government but citizens also. The rule of law is the very foundation of administration of justice. If the rule of law is hurt, it will affect the justice dispensation system,” the bench said, while fixing April 4 as the next date of hearing.
The tribunal’s order came on a plea by environmental activists seeking a stay on the festival, alleging that AOL had not deposited the Rs 5-crore fine that the tribunal had imposed.