ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

NGT issues contempt notice to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar over comments on Yamuna floodplains

The Art of Living chief had accused the panel of compiling a biased report about the damage his organisation had done to the eco-sensitive zone.

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday issued a contempt notice to the Art of Living foundation’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar over the controversy surrounding the damaged Yamuna floodplains, PTI reported. The notice was based on a petition against the foundation’s chief, which accused him of blaming the Centre and the green panel for damaging the Yamuna floodplains by allowing his NGO to host an event at the site.

Issued by the panel’s chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, the notice has demanded a reply by May 9, which is the date of the next hearing. The petition was filed by activist Manoj Misra, who said Ravi Shankar had made remarks that “interfered with free and fair dispensation of justice”.

In a statement on his website, the Art of Living founder had derided the government and NGT for allowing his NGO to conduct a massive cultural show on a site that has been described as “fragile and pure”. “They could have stopped the event in the beginning if they wanted to. It defies all principles of natural justice that you give permissions and slap a fine for not violating any rules! This is like giving a challan to someone at a green signal!” a statement on his website said.

The Art of Living had held the mega cultural show in March 2016, 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.

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