Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation has still not paid the NGT fine imposed on it for damaging the Yamuna floodplain during its World Culture Festival. Why not?
New Delhi: A month has passed since the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed an interim “environmental compensation” fine of 5 crore rupees on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, for damaging the Yamuna floodplain while preparing for its mega “World Culture Festival,” which took place between March 11 and 13, 2016. However, the foundation has still not paid the fine.
It was after hearing the matter for close to a month that a four-member bench of the NGT, headed by chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, imposed the penalty. The bench also fined the Delhi Development Authority and Delhi Pollution Control Committee for permitting the event to take place despite the NGT’s clear directions last year forbidding construction on the floodplain.
The NGT had in its order specifically directed the foundation to pay the compensation of 5 crore rupees before the event commenced. However, the foundation did not follow the NGT’s orders. It instead managed to get permission from the NGT to proceed with the event after depositing just 25 lakh rupees.
The NGT additionally stated that this initial deposit would be adjusted against the final payment, which would be re-determined based on a report made by the NGT’s principal committee within four weeks from the date of its order.
It now appears that the authorities, who so systematically allowed the event to take place, are no longer interested in imposing the fine or in restoring the floodplain. Four weeks have passed since the event, but the principal committee, headed by the Union water resources secretary, has yet to visit the site to assess the damage and establish the cost of restoration work.
Manoj Mishra of the environmental organization Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan has been spearheading the campaign for the protection of the Yamuna floodplain. It was he who filed the petition against the Art of Living Foundation.
Mishra told The Wire that in the last hearing on April 4, the foundation stated that instead of paying the 5 crore rupees in cash, it would furnish a bank guarantee of the same amount. “We opposed this, saying that would be against their promise to the tribunal. So the NGT has now asked the foundation to submit its reply in the next hearing,” said Mishra.
Mishra added that the committee said it would visit the floodplains for an inspection once the foundation had vacated the area. But the foundation has still not removed all its construction debris from the site, and so the visit has not yet happened. The foundation has said that it will vacate the area “soon.”
He confirmed that as of now, the foundation has deposited only 25 lakh rupees with the Delhi Development Authority.
The principal committee has been mandated to look into the “restoration, restitution and rejuvenation of the flood plains to its original status. It will also state the approximate cost that would have to be incurred for such restoration and restitution.” Further, the area will be developed into a biodiversity park. The cost of this will be borne by the Art of Living Foundation and the Delhi Development Authority, in a proportion to be determined by the NGT.
The tribunal’s decision to allow the event at all, when it last year forbade construction on the floodplains, has been met with severe criticism – especially since it had itself pointed out that various government agencies colluded to allow the event to happen.
President Pranab Mukherjee backed out of the event in light of the controversy surrounding it. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several of his cabinet colleagues, as well as Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and some of his ministers, attended the event.
This level of political patronage for an event that took place in clear violation of NGT orders has deeply disheartened the activists who continue to fight to save the Yamuna floodplain. They feel that permitting the event will open the floodgates for further violations, and also that the tribunal has lowered its own prestige.