The Art of Living foundation on Tuesday said that the Centre, the Delhi government and the National Green Tribunal were responsible for the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains as they were the ones who had allowed the foundation to organise the World Culture Festival there in March 2016, Hindustan Times reported.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, head of the foundation, issued a statement on the matter which said, “If, at all, any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and state governments and the NGT itself, for giving the permission. If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival.”
On April 12, a committee of experts had informed the National Green Tribunal that the Art of Living foundation had destroyed the Yamuna floodplains during its World Culture Festival held between March 11 and March 13, 2016. The experts had informed the green tribunal that undoing the damage caused to the floodplains would cost Rs 13.29 crore and take 10 years.
In response to the panel’s report, the foundation had issued a statement calling it “flawed, unscientific and biased”.
In March 2016, the Art of Living had held the mega cultural event to mark 35 years since the organisation was founded. Environmentalists and NGOs had protested against the event being held on the floodplains of the Yamuna, saying this would irreparably damage the ecologically sensitive zone. The National Green Tribunal had taken note of the matter and fined the organisation Rs 120 crore, but later revised the figure to Rs 5 crore. It had also allowed the Art of Living to go ahead with the celebrations.
After the event, the foundation had appealed against the fine. It had paid Rs 25 lakh of the Rs 5-crore amount and said that the remaining be treated as a bank guarantee that would go towards efforts to create a biodiversity park in the area. On April 22, the green tribunal had pulled up the foundation for not allowing inspections at the festival site, to which Art of Living said that it was still cleaning up the area when an inspection team arrived there on April 15. It later paid the remaining fine amount. In August 2016, too, an expert panel had informed the National Green Tribunal that the floodplains had been completely damaged after the event. The foundation had challenged the report and had said it would try to win back the money it had paid as fine.