With two NGT-appointed panels coming up with contradictory findings on the extent of damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains by the World Culture Festival held last year, the petitioner, Manoj Misra, has asked that an “independent expert agency” be set up so that the directions of the tribunal are complied with and the floodplains are restored. He also suggested that the independent expert agency be suggested and supervised by NGT’s expert panel.
A week ago, a DDA-led panel, set up to submit an ‘action plan’ to restore the floodplains, told the tribunal that there was no compaction of soil at the site of the festival, organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation in March 2016. Last year, a seven-member expert panel had claimed in its report that the floodplains had been completely destroyed due to the festival and had found that the soil had been compacted.
“We asked for an action plan on the basis of the principal committee report. You were not supposed to sit over that committee,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar told the DDA’s counsel on Friday. The action plan was to be based on the expert panel’s findings, the bench said. “Have you laid down an activity-wise action plan? What are all the activities? Who will be doing it?” the bench asked.
The DDA counsel said the findings were based on a recent visit to the site and “observations” made from that visit. Referring to Google Earth images, in its report last week, the committee said that it could not locate any “heap of debris” on the site and that it was evident that no “wetland or water body” had been seen on the site prior to the event. However, the matter could not be on heard on Friday since only two members of the three-member bench were present. The next hearing is on August 10.
Meanwhile, the petitioner’s lawyer submitted “objections to the report” to the tribunal, and called the DDA’s action plan “not being fair and unbiased” and not being in compliance with the NGT’s orders. It also said that the “applicant did not object to the appointment of DDA for preparing the action plan because it is a statutory body and is, therefore, bound to discharge its obligations in an unbiased manner”.
However, the petitioner noted: “Unfortunately, the action plan given by the DDA points otherwise.” The objections further noted that the new committee “failed to comply” with the directions of the tribunal and had not prepared and produced any action plan for the implementation and recommendation of the expert committee, as directed.
The report “reveals that rather than fulfilling the directions” of the tribunal, “the committee of officials has sat on judgment and has made observations contrary to the findings of the expert committee” constituted earlier by the tribunal, the lawyer said.