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Art of Living's World Culture Festival 'completely destroyed' Yamuna floodplains, say NGT experts

A panel set up by the green tribunal said the event left the ground totally leveled and hardened, devoid of water bodies or vegetation.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living foundation "completely destroyed" the Yamuna floodplains when they held their World Culture Festival there in March, an expert panel has informed the National Green Tribunal. "The ground is now totally leveled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation," the committee observed in its report, according to PTI.

The 47-page document further noted, "The area where the grand stage was erected [and the area immediately behind it] is heavily consolidated – most likely with a different kind of external material used to level the ground and compress it. Huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps for access from the DND flyover and from the two pontoon bridges across the Barapullah drain." The seven-member panel was headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources.

According to the report, the event destroyed the natural habitat of various organisms in the area. "These organisms were rendered homeless, driven away by intense activity and many were consigned to graves under the debris. This is [an] invisible loss of biodiversity, which cannot be easily assessed and most may never be able to return. Far more significant changes are expected in the micro-organisms that are critical to ecosystem functioning," it said.

The festival had drawn flak for causing environmental damage weeks before it was scheduled to take place. The green tribunal first ordered a fine of Rs 120 crore, and then reduced it to Rs 5 crore. However, Art of Living missed the deadlines to pay the fine after putting up an amount of Rs 25 lakh initially.

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