The Delhi Development Authority on Friday told the National Green Tribunal that there was “no compaction, no significant wetland and no debris” at the Yamuna floodplains, the site of the three-day festival held by self-styled godman Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation in March 2016, The Indian Express reported.
The NGT bench had formed an expert committee comprising members from the DDA and chief engineers from the irrigation departments of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and had asked them to come up with an action plan to restore the floodplains. In its report, the DDA panel said the area was “fully covered with grass, along with saplings/seedlings of various tree species here and there”, and that such “grass and natural regeneration of seedlings [was] not possible on compacted soil”. It also said that no “heap of debris” was seen.
This contradicts the findings of an earlier NGT-appointed expert panel, which had said that the Art of Living festival had completely destroyed the Yamuna floodplains.
The Art of Living Foundation had held the mega cultural show to mark 35 years since it was founded. Environmentalists and NGOs had protested against the event being held on the floodplains of the Yamuna, saying it 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.