A scientific panel appointed by the National Green Tribunal has recommended fining spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation Rs 100 crore-120 crore for the damage afflicted to Yamuna floodplains while making preparations for an event, India Today reported. The organisation plans to hold the World Culture Festival from March 11 to 13 on the banks of the river. “...This amount should be collected from the foundation before the event and kept in a separate account monitored by the NGT. The entire ecological restoration of Yamuna’s [affected] sites must be completed within a year from the date of the completion of the festival,” the report said.
The venue is spread over an area of more than 1,000 acres. Structures have cropped up all over the banks of Yamuna for the event, including a 40-ft-high multi-storey stage, large white portable cabins and huts and a makeshift parking lot. The NGT set up an investigative committee after activist Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan filed a petition earlier this month. Its final report says small water bodies that existed earlier have been filled up, and all natural vegetation has been removed, because of which birds and natural life that thrived there have vanished. “Even most of the trees have been lopped or removed,” it said, among other findings.
While the report does not seek the cancellation of the fest, it takes into account the harm that a crowd of more than 3.5 million people can cause to Yamuna’s delicate ecology. The panel has sought a revised plan from the organisers through a court affidavit and a detailed site map. Director of Art of Living Gautam Vig said they had abided by the Delhi Development Authority’s rules, including setting up chemical toilets to ensure that sewage does not flow into the river. In statement, an Art of Living spokesperson denied the allegations levelled against them, and said that all the construction made by them for the festival are temporary and strictly follows guidelines to protect the environment.
"The Art of Living in strict adherence to the NGT direction has not done any construction/concretization at the World Culture festival site. Further we have used only eco-friendly material like wood, mud, cloth, and scaffolding towards building a temporary stage for the purpose of holding a three-day festival,” said the spokesperson.