Art of Living faces Rs 120 crore fine for damaging Yamuna floodplains

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Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Culture Festival, scheduled for March 11-13 on the banks of Yamuna, may be in for serious trouble.

A scientific panel appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to look into apprehensions of large-scale damage to Yamuna floodplains, has found proof and recommended a fine of Rs 100-120 crore on the organisers of the event.

Though the report does not ask for cancellation of the programme, it takes serious view of the over 3.5 million crowd expected and the harm it would cause to Yamuna’s fragile ecology. “The organisers must restrict the area to bare minimum and submit a revised plan through a court affidavit in day or two. A site map must be produced stating all details. Activities on the eastern side of Yamuna must be minimized,” the NGT report said.

Advocating for “restoration” of the ravaged site now, it says, “We are strongly of the view…this amount (Rs 100-120 crores) should be collected from the Art of Living Foundation before the event and kept in a separate account monitored by the honourable NGT. The entire ecological restoration of Yamuna’s (affected) sites must be completed within a year from the date of the completion of the festival, March 13, 2016.”

The World Culture Festival’s own website describes the event as a celebration of Art of Living’s 35 years in service of humanity and spirituality’. Spread over a venue of 1,000 acres, it will host guests from 155 countries.

Around 35,000 musicians will perform on a vast stage concurrently in a bid to create a world record. “It is one of the biggest cultural gatherings in recent times,” the AOL claims.

Structures have mushroomed all over Yamuna banks for the event. A 40 feet high, multistorey, stage has been built on the western side of Yamuna’s active floodplain, clearly visible from DND flyover. Large white porta cabins and huts have been erected on an ‘island’ formed by two separate channels of the river. A ‘parking lot’ has been created north of Barapullah drain which was, apparently, advised by Professor CR Babu Committee report to be developed as a “marshland” to naturally clean Yamuna of its pollutants. At least four ‘pontoon bridges’ are being constructed on Yamuna itself. Besides, at least six access roads have been carved out for which large areas of natural vegetation have been raised.

Activist Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal on February 11, corresponding to which an investigative committee was set up. It comprised Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Water Resources Ministry; CR Babu of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Professor AK Gosain of IIT (Delhi) and Professor Brij Gopal from Jaipur.

Its final report, submitted on Thursday, says, “The entire area of the floodplain, no less than 50 to 60 hectares between the river and DND flyover, has been levelled flat. Small water bodies that existed earlier have been filled up.

All natural vegetation, including reeds, has been removed. As a result, all birds and natural life that thrived before have vanished. Construction debris has been used to ‘compact’ the site. Besides, even most of the trees have been lopped or removed.”

Meanwhile, Gautam Vig, Director, Art of Living, responded to Mail Today, saying: “It is incorrect to blame us. We abided by the DDA’s rules, including setting up chemical toilets so that sewage does not flow into Yamuna. In 2010, we initiated the Meri Dilli, Meri Yamuna for which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar pulled out plastic and filth from the river. We have also planted 55 lakh saplings.”

The statement: Art of Living denies it was fined for damaging Yamuna floodplains


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