New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Faulting every concerned government agency over a cultural event on the fragile banks of Yamuna this weekend, a green court has slapped a Rs.5 crore fine on its organisers, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led Art of Living (AoL). But it did not stay the event.
Acting on petitions over alleged violation of environment laws, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) also fined the central government-led Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Rs.5 lakh and another Rs.1 lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
“What is your primary duty? Do you believe Art of Living has not done any damage to the environment,” the livid bench said, even describing the city pollution committee “incompetent” and failing to discharge its duties.
“All (government) authorities have failed to fulfill their duties,” said the principal bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar, Justice M.S. Nambiar, Justice D.K. Agrawal and Justice B.S. Sajwan.
“For the damage caused to environment, ecology, biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the foundation (AoL) should be held liable for its restoration in all respects,” said the bench.
The Delhi High Court on Wednesday also took note of news reports on the AoL’s cultural mega-event from March 11 to 13 and said that holding the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna flood plain appears to be a disaster from the ecological point of view.
“It’s (event) a disaster,” a division bench of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva observed while hearing a public interest litigation on the unauthorised constructions on the river’s flood plain in Jaitpur and Mithapur areas of Delhi.
The AoL event figured in parliament on Wednesday with the some opposition parties questioning how the government deployed the Indian Army to construct pontoon bridges for the event.
Delhi Police have also flagged their concerns about managing security in view of large gathering on the Yamuna floodplains and also about the “structural stability” of the venue.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal however said that controversies over the event should now end in view of National Green Tribunal order.
There were four related petitions before the NGT — by Manoj Misra and by Anand Arya against the DDA, by Pramod Kumar Tyagi against AoL and by Ojasvi Party against the environment and forests ministry.
The bench said it was unable to issue prohibitory orders due to delay on the applicant’s part and for the fact that removal of construction and restoration of the area was not possible at this stage.
“This tribunal is primarily dealing with the ecological, environmental and biodiversity damage done to the river and the flood plains by the activity of the Foundation and the environmental consequences of holding such an event,” it said.
“We are not strictly concerned with the cultural event that is proposed to be held from 11-13 March, 2016,” it said.
The order said it was consistent view of experts and was sufficiently evident from documents that “flood plains have been drastically tampered with while destroying the natural flow of the river, reeds, grasses, natural vegetation on the river bed”.
It said it had “no hesitation in holding that DPCC has failed to discharge its statutory obligation” or to “exercise due diligence” and has “in fact it has exercised its authority improperly”.
Faulting the DDA for “its defaults and non-performance of its statutory functions”, the NFT said: “This cannot be termed as a recreational activity. It is a complete project in itself and the DDA ought to have applied its mind. Strangely, it has neither conducted inspection of the site prior to the grant of permission nor during operation or subsequent thereto…”
The tribunal pulled up the environment ministry, saying: “What is your primary duty? Do you believe Art of Living has not done any damage to the environment?” while telling the water resources ministry that “managing, conserving and developing the river plains primarily falls under your domain”.
Imposing initial environmental compensation of Rs.5 crore, the order said this would be adjusted towards the final compensation to be paid by the Foundation for restoration work.
The tribunal directed its committee to submit a report within four weeks for steps required “for restoration, restitution and rejuvenation of the flood plains to its original status”.
The order said that information provided by the AoL was “incomplete, vague and uncertain” since it did not provide any comprehensive plan about huge construction, approach roads, parking and a huge stage which 1000 feet in length and 200 feet in breadth.
AoL told the tribunal that three lakh people would attend. However, in its promotional literature, it had claimed that 35 lakh people would come from 155 countries.
Art of Living admitted in court that they had spent Rs.25.63 crore for the event.