ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living responsible for damaging Yamuna floodplains, says NGT

The panel did not levy any additional penalty on the foundation, and said the Rs 5-crore fine that the foundation had paid would be used for restoration work.

The National Green Tribunal on Thursday held spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation responsible for damaging the Yamuna floodplains during its three-day festival in March 2016, The Indian Express reported.

The panel did not levy any additional penalty on the foundation, and said that the Rs 5-crore fine that Art of Living had paid in 2016 would be used for restoration work. It added that if the charges for the restoration work exceed Rs 5 crore, it would be recovered from Art of Living.

The Delhi Development Authority will restore the floodplains, the tribunal said. However, it did not fine the DDA as it has already initiated setting up biodiversity parks along the Yamuna floodplains.

A bench headed by the tribunal’s Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar had on November 13 reserved its verdict after hearing the submissions of all concerned parties, including the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The ministry had said that as per a 2006 environment impact assessment report, no environmental clearance was needed for the festival.

The tribunal had also heard arguments of the Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Art of Living. The DDA had told the tribunal that it had plans to beautify the Yamuna riverbed, to plant more trees, develop the wetland and work for the ecological restoration.

In April, the tribunal had issued a contempt notice to Art of Living founder Ravi Shankar over the controversy surrounding the ecologically-sensitive Yamuna floodplains. The notice was based on a petition against him, which had accused him of blaming the Centre and the NGT for damaging the Yamuna floodplains by allowing Art of Living to host the event at the site.

The foundation had held the World Culture Festival 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. It later paid the remaining fine amount.

Art of Living to appeal in Supreme Court

In a statement after the verdict was pronounced, the foundation said it was “disappointed” and that it did not agree with the green tribunal.

“Our submissions have not been dealt with or considered,” their statement said. “We will appeal to the Hon’ble Supreme Court. We are confident that we will get justice before the Supreme Court.”

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