The National Green Tribunal (NGT) said on Thursday that Art of Living AOL), which is organising he World Culture Festival on Yamuna floodplains, still has ime to pay the Rs 5-cr fine it has imposed on it. And if it fai ed to do so, the law will take ts own course.On Wednesday , NGT had ordered AOL to pay the fine “prior to commencement of the event“. The festival will be inaugurated at 5 pm on Friday. Till 5 pm on Thursday , AOL hadn’t deposited the amount, according to the lawyer representing DDA.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of AOL had earlier in the day said he would rather go to jail than pay the fine imposed on his organization by NGT. He had also tweeted that AOL was not “satisfied“ with the verdict of the NGT and would appeal against it, adding “Satyamev Jayate“. TOI made several calls to AOL’s lawyer, Saraswati Akshama Nath, to ask if the organisation would be paying the fine on Friday but these went unanswered. She messaged much later, saying “busy with the festival“ but didn’t reply to TOI’s questions. Dinesh Ghodke, secretary to Sri Sri, also didn’t answer TOI’s calls.
“They still have time till tomorrow to deposit the Rs 5crore fine as environmental compensation, in compliance with the directions of the tribunal,“ NGT said, responding to an application which pointed out that AOL had not paid the amount till Thursday . The bench, however, didn’t ask AOL’s lawyer when they would be depositing the fine for environmental violations on the floodplains due to massive constructions. “If there is any breach of any condition, the matter will be taken up as and when required and the law will take its own course,“ said NGT chairperson Swatantar Kumar. According to lawyers and media present in the court room earlier in the day , the bench had asked DDA’s lawyer if the fine had been paid, adding that if it wasn’t paid by 4 pm, the permission for the the event would be cancelled. This, however, couldn’t be verified.
The tribunal also refused to give an urgent hearing on a fresh plea seeking a stay on the three-day event, alleging that AOL has not taken permissions from the competent authorities as directed by the tribunal.
“There is no urgency in it.You can file a proper application and point out the deficiencies in compliance with the directions of the tribunal. We will see if there is any breach or (something is) not as per the law,“ the bench said.
Ritwick Dutta, lawyer representing petitioner Manoj Mishra, said if AOL doesn’t pay the fine on Friday or do esn’t appeal for more time to pay the fine, it would amount to contempt of court. “They can be punished with a fine, imprisonment, confiscation or attachment of properties or other (actions). It is a violation of NGT’s orders,“ he said. Howe ver, he pointed out, that AOL can approach Supreme Court where it could get a stay or an exemption. “Our role is to ensure that NGT’s orders get executed. They should deposit the fine before the event; they still ha ve time till tomorrow,“ said acti vist Mishra.
“For the damage caused to the environment, ecology , biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the foundation should be held liable for its restoration in all aspects,“ the bench said, explaining that the Rs 5 crore ….will be adjusted later once the principal committee constituted by the tribunal suggests the steps required for restoration and the cost it would incur. It had also directed AOL to give an undertaking by Thursday that within two weeksfrom the date DDA demands the balance amount, AOL will pay it.