NGT verdict next week, AoL denies backtracking on paying damages

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New Delhi, April 28 (IANS) The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is likely to give its verdict next Wednesday on the Art of Living (AoL) causing ecological damage on the Yamuna banks in Delhi, officials from the ‘Green Court’ told IANS.

The Court concluded the hearings on the case on April 22 and had reserved the final order.

In his reply filed before the NGT, environment activist Manoj Misra accused AoL headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of “backtracking from their commitment to pay for the ecological destruction caused by their event” — the World Culture Festival (WCF) held on the Yamuna floodplains last month.

AoL, however, said in its application that it did not backtrack but was asking the NGT to allow it to provide a bank guarantee instead of payment in cash of the balance Rs 4.75 crore as environment compensation, determined by the NGT earlier.

“The present application is being filed before this Honorable Tribunal for modification of the order dated 11.03.2016 to allow for submission of security by way of a Bank Guarantee in lieu of payment of the balance amount as directed,” AoL said in its reply to the NGT.

Petitioner Misra, in his affidavit to the NGT through his counsel Sanjay Parikh, said that “instead of complying with the terms of the undertaking and the directions in the Honorable Tribunal’s order dated 11.03.2016, the Respondent No.3 (AoL), has now come with further device to flout the orders…to further delay the part payment of the said environmental compensation”.

Misra said that the “foundation is a making mockery of the law” and added that it was a “clear case of contempt committed under Section 26 of the NGT Act.”

AoL has asserted it is not averse to paying any environment compensation but wanted a “change in modality of payment”.

The foundation also challenged the Expert Committee’s observation in its report that the World Culture Festival had damaged the Yamuna floodplains and it would require at least Rs.120 crore to restore the area to its original state.

“The reports submitted by the Expert Committee which form the basis of the previous orders passed by this Honorable Tribunal were predominantly based on a visual examination of the site rather than a detailed scientific assessment,” AoL added in its reply to the NGT.

“Who has quantified the damage to the floodplain and how? The NGT’s Principal Committee visually inspected the World Culture Festival’s ground for one hour and pronounced a reparation fee of Rs.100-120 crore. No sampling, or scientific assessment was undertaken. This raises many questions regarding the credibility of the Principal Committee,” AoL’s Karthik Krishna said in response to a query by IANS.

The NGT by its March 9 order constituted a ‘Principal Committee’ comprising officials from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, National Pollution Control Board, ministry of environment and forest conservation, and the union water resource ministry.

The committee was mandated to carry out the inspection of the floodplains and submit its report to quantify the damage incurred to Yamuna floodplains because of the World Culture Festival.

Although the deadline of the task lapsed on April 1, the committee is yet to submit its report.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) officials also echoed the sentiments of the petitioner, although they were unwilling to come on record.

“AoL had given in writing that they had vacated the venue. We are not sure of their stand and participation in the inspection of the venue,” officials said. The DDA officials said AoL had been non-cooperative.

Responding to the DDA’s claim, AoL spokesperson Gautam Vij said: “The NGT team which had came down for inspection didn’t know of their own letter which they had written to NGT stating that they will start inspection only after the Art of Living vacates the site.”

The AoL has also pointed out to the construction of Akshardham temple, Delhi Secretariat, the Commonwealth Games Village and the Delhi Millennium Bus Depot as standing on the “fragile Yamuna floodplains.”

(Vinayak Dutt can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

Vin/hs/vt

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