The World Culture Festival by the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation will go on as planned but only after paying an initial fine of Rs 5 crore as compensation for damaging the biodiversity of the flood plains of river Yamuna, the National Green Tribunal has ruled.
In its verdict on Wednesday, a bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar ruled the event, to be held between March 11-13, could not be closed down because of the late date at which the matter has been brought to the court’s notice.
However, it noted that a large area of the Yamuna’s eastern floodplain had been dealt considerable damage. This was due to the natural flow of the river being checked by the building of six pontoon bridges and artificial embankments while a large area have been leveled irrespective of the natural flora.
More than 500,000 people from across the globe are expected to visit the Ravi Shankar event celebrating the 35th anniversary of AOL, which is headed by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
The NGT also ordered a committee to be formed with representatives from the environment ministry, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and the Central Pollution Control Board who shall immediately inspect the site and issue directions by Thursday with respect to the source of water, collection and disposal of the Municipal Solid Waste and sewerage generated.
The lack of any assessment earlier had been justified by the environment ministry which had informed the court that no clearance was necessary for temporary structures being erected. The NGT later questioned how the structures could be termed temporary when no assessment had been made.
The ministry also initially failed to present an affidavit in this respect demanded by the court after it pointed out the ministry’s actions violated the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
On the other hand, the water resources ministry denied receiving any applications for permission.
Shankar had maintained the event was not detrimental to the environment and had proposed creating a biodiversity park in the area.
The green court has taken up this proposal and subsequently ordered that such a park be indeed built there by AOL and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which had granted the event permission on 30 June, 2015.
Terming this permission vague and outside the DDA’s jurisdiction, the court fined it Rs 5 lakh while fining the DPCC Rs one lakh for failing to discharge their duty. The defendant for AOL said DPCC had said there was no requirement for permissions from it, owing to its cultural nature.
The court has also ordered AOL to bear the entire cost of restoring the area to its natural state within two weeks. The cost will be assessed by a principal committee formed by the court.
Counsels appearing for AOL said the 40 feet high and 1000 feet long stage have been erected only after receiving requisite permissions from the Delhi government, which the green court noted was not a responsible authority.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who was set to address the event, later cancelled, casting a shadow on the participation by the Prime Minister, who has also been invited.
The counsel for Delhi Government informed NGT on Wednesday that after inspecting the site, the Delhi Police has written to the Urban Development ministry saying the stage, where the Prime Minister is to be seated, lacks a structural stability certificate.
The event has also caused an uproar by the opposition in Rajya Sabha.