ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

NGT says Art of Living has until Friday to pay Rs 5-crore fine

The foundation said it planned to appeal against the green court's order imposing the penalty on its World Culture Festival.

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday told the Art of Living founation to pay a Rs 5-crore fine, or face legal action. A day after the National Green Tribunal imposed a fine on the foundation for violating norms and damaging the Yamuna floodplains where their World Cultural Festival is to take place, it said it can revoke clearance for the festival if the amount was not paid. It also has until Friday to get fire and safety clearances. The three-day festival, which will take place across 1,000 acres of land on the Yamuna floodplains, is slated to start on Friday.

The foundation earlier said it will appeal against the tribunal's order. An NGT panel had recommended imposing a Rs 120-crore fine earlier, after an inspection and study of the area, but the green court had imposed a Rs 5-crore fine and allowed the controversial event to take place as planned. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the festival on Friday.

Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar told NDTV he would rather go to jail than pay a fine. He has continued to defend the foundation and say that the 1,000-acre area on the floodplains has not been negatively affected in any way. He also said his foundation had worked hard to clean the river and floodplains for the event, and it had not harmed the ecosystem there. Ravi Shankar added that in their appeal they will provide pictures of their work done to improve the floodplains. He said that “In India, one can be fined even for following all the rules,” and stood by his claims that no trees were cut down in the area. He added that the foundation had done similar work in Germany five years ago.

The green court on Wednesday had expressed its helplessness against staying the event, but also fined the Environment Ministry, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Delhi Development Authority for allowing the foundation’s massive construction on the floodplains.

The Centre has been criticised for not stepping in and checking the construction on the floodplains, as well as providing Army assistance in building a pontoon bridge for the festival, which will have around 35 lakh visitors. The Ministry of Culture also gave Rs 2.25 crore to Ravi Shankar's Vyakti Vikas Kendra Trust, a move defended by Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma.

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