ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

NGT allows Art of Living to host festival on Yamuna bank, imposes Rs 5 crore fine

The green court asked the foundation to provide an undertaking that enzymes won't be released into the river and there will be no further degradation of the environment.

The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday allowed spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living foundation to host a cultural festival on the floodplains of the Yamuna river as scheduled from March 11 to 13. However, the green court imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on the foundation as environment compensation. It also asked AOL to provide an undertaking that enzymes won't be released into the Yamuna and there will be no further degradation of the environment, reported PTI. The NGT also asked the foundation to develop the entire 1,000 acres of land in question into a biodiversity park following the festival's conclusion.

The environment body also slapped fines of Rs 5 lakh on Delhi Development Authority and Rs 1 lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee for not discharging statutory functions. Earlier, amid reports of severe environmental damage on the river bank, the Ministry of Water Resources told the NGT that it had not granted permission to AOL for the World Cultural Festival. The Delhi government also said the city's police and fire brigade had not approved the festival. A police report on March 1 had raised doubts over safety arrangements for the event.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Environment & Forests also filed an affidavit after being pulled up by the court, saying that no environmental clearance was required for constructing temporary structures on floodplains. The Opposition hit out at the Centre in Parliament, questioning why the Indian Army had been called in to help construct a bridge for the festival.

The festival, which is AOL's 35th anniversary celebration, has cost the foundation around Rs 25.6 crore so far. The AOL counsel has firmly maintained in the court that no damage was done during the construction, and that no permanent structures were built. A seven-acre stage has been built at the festival site – the largest temporary stage in the world – besides pontoon bridges, barricades etc. Its counsel also claimed the area used for the festival had not been marked as a floodplain, which the NGT strongly refuted. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had claimed that not a single tree was cut down for construction.

The Delhi government also told the green court that civic authorities had asked Art of Living to build a separate stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of security concerns. Besides Modi, the event was scheduled to play host to President Pranab Mukherjee and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as well. Mukherjee on Sunday announced he will not attend the festival.

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