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World Culture Festival: NGT pulls up Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s AOL for barring panel from site

At the hearing on March 9, however, the NGT charged AOL with a Rs 5-crore “initial compensation” to be adjusted against the final amount determined.

Written by Kedar Nagarajan | New Delhi |
April 22, 2016 2:06:09 am
Performers gather for a rehearsal at the venue of the World Culture Festival Thursday. (Express Photo: Oinam Anand) The festival was held on Yamuna floodplains. (Express Photo: Oinam Anand)

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Thursday pulled up the Art Of Living (AOL) Foundation for doing “wrong things” after it was informed that the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led organisation had prevented its expert panel from visiting the Yamuna floodplains that hosted the World Culture Festival last month.

The expert committee was constituted by the NGT to inspect the venue, determine a compensation amount and chart out a plan for rejuvenation after it found that the festival hosted by AOL caused environmental damage at the site. At a hearing, the expert committee also informed the NGT that the AOL was yet to pay the initial compensation amount that the Tribunal had ordered it to deposit within three weeks of its order on March 9.

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At the hearing, advocates representing AOL and the DDA argued that there was “confusion” over whether a written statement declaring that the land was vacated had been submitted to the DDA. Argued Gautam Vig of AOL: “The clean-up of the floodplains had not been completely carried out yet and therefore the inspection could not be carried out till we had vacated the site. Clean-up work was still taking place. As the issue of the inspection of the land is a matter before the NGT, the site visit also has to be conducted only after we notified the DDA… that the land has been vacated.”

In response, the Principal Bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar asked: “Who are you to tell them that they cannot inspect the site? It is very disappointing that you threw the inspection team away from the site. You cannot keep doing wrong things and then say that the law will take its own course.” The bench also directed the DDA to get its officer in charge of this issue to clear the status of the land.

On April 4, the head of the expert committee, Shashi Shekar (Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources), had written to the NGT stating that the inspection of the committee can only be carried out when the land had been vacated. AOL, however, assured the Principal Bench that the land would be vacated and that the committee would be able to visit the site and present its report to the bench before April 21.

According to the order on March 9, the committee was to inspect the site and submit its report four weeks after the conclusion of the event on March 13. On February 20, the committee had recommended a Rs 120-crore compensation fee for the environmental impact the event would have on the floodplains.

At the hearing on March 9, however, the NGT charged AOL with a Rs 5-crore “initial compensation” to be adjusted against the final amount determined. In response, the AOL paid Rs 25 lakh as a show of faith on the promise that they would pay the full amount within three weeks.

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