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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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.