AoL deserves punishment

Warnings about the environmental damage that would be caused by the World Culture Festival held by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AoL) Foundation on the Yamuna’s flood plains in Delhi have come true, with an expert committee finding that the damage is very extensive and irreversible. The cultural extravaganza was held in March in the face of strong opposition from environmentalists and others concerned over the deterioration of the natural habitat linked with the river. The National Green Tribunal, which was approached for action, could not prevent the event from taking place. The tribunal constituted the expert committee after the event to assess the damage and determine the cost of restoration. The committee has submitted its report after inspecting the area and a study of satellite images. It has not quantified the damage as it had been told by
the tribunal but what it has reported is deeply disturbing.

The committee found that the flood plain area used for the main event site has been “completely destroyed, not simply destroyed.” The topography was changed
and the ground was levelled and hardened. Water bodies have disappeared and the area has been deprived of vegetation. A lot of biodiversity is lost. Various organisms which thrived there have been rendered homeless or killed under the debris. Most of them will not come back. The area’s ecosystem of micro-organisms is set to change. All these had been pointed out to the green tribunal before the event. The tribunal only asked for payment of a penalty of Rs 5 crore from AoL. Some months before the event, the tribunal had, in fact, banned all such activity on the flood plains. The high-profile event had political and government support at the highest level. It also saw the questionable use of Army personnel for construction work at the site.

AoL has rejected the findings of the committee. It has said that the committee was biased and unscientific and lacked credibility. It wants another committee to be set up to study the matter. But the seven-member committee, headed by the Secretary, Water Resources, and comprising scientists and experts from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, IIT Delhi and other agencies, has high credentials and expertise. AoL’s response is as unconvincing as its defence of the event was. It had even dilly-dallied on the payment prescribed by the tribunal. The tribunal should get the damage quantified and make sure that AoL pays the compensation. Money cannot always make up for what is lost in nature, but a message should be sent out that offenders cannot get away.

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