The National Green Tribunal on Thursday rebuked Art of Living foundation head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for accusing the top environmental court of a biased report about the damage done to the Yamuna floodplains by the organisation’s World Culture Festival. The tribunal described the allegations as “shocking”.
“You have no sense of responsibility. Do you think you have the liberty to say whatever you want?” the NGT told the foundation. The tribunal also asked petitioner Manoj Mishra to file an application with details of the statement issued by the foundation on April 18. The bench will take up the matter again on May 9, reported ANI.
Ravinshankar, however, shot back, “The truth is we have caused no damage to the Yamuna. When lies are exposed, it is shocking,” he reiterated.
On April 12, a committee of experts had informed the NGT that the 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”. The outfit added that the Centre, the Delhi government and the NGT were responsible for the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains as they were the ones who had allowed the foundation to organise the event.
The Art of Living had held the mega cultural show 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 NGT 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 NGT 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.