NGT slaps Rs.5 crore fine on AoL, allows event to go ahead

New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday slapped an initial fine of Rs.5 crore on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led Art of Living foundation, but declined to stay the holding of the sprawling World Culture Festival on the fragile Yamuna flood plain. It also pulled up the government, saying the authorities had failed to discharge their duties.

The tribunal also imposed a fine of Rs.5 lakh on Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and a fine of Rs.1 lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).

The NGT, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, described the DPCC as “incompetent”, saying it had failed to discharge its duty.

The NGT ordered a study of the area to assess damage to the river’s flood plain after the event, following which, the tribunal said, the fine may be increased manifold. “You may have to pay for the restoration of environment,” it said. Any damage to the water bodies would also have to be paid for.

The four-member green bench said AoL could be asked to pay for setting up a biodiversity park in the area.

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?”

Counsel for the environment ministry said that “we may conclude this only after conducting a study”.

The tribunal then said, possibly sarcastically: “A study will only be (carried out) after damage has been done?”

It told the water resources ministry that “managing, conserving and developing the river plains primarily falls under your domain”.

The tribunal also said that “all (government) authorities have failed to fulfil their duties”.

The NGT was moved over the alleged violation of environmental laws and pollution of Yamuna river likely to be caused by the event which is to be held from March 11 to 13. AoL told the tribunal that three lakh people from 155 countries would attend. However, in its promotional literature, it had claimed that 35 lakh people would come.

Environmental activist Manoj Mishra, who filed the petition, had insisted that the event should not only be stopped but the tribunal should also impose a fine on the organisers.

“The court has accepted our contention,” Mishra told reporters post-verdict adding “we have been successful in highlighting our primary point”.

He said the fine imposed on AoL is only an initial one.

Art of Living admitted in court that they had spent Rs.25.63 crore for the event, of which Rs.15.63 crore was for stage formation and marquees while the remaining Rs.10 crore was paid for decoration and lighting.

The event is likely to be attended by several central ministers. It is unclear whether the prime minister too would go. Rashtrapati Bhavan officials said on Monday that President Pranab Mukherjee would not be attending the event.

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