Yamuna: NGT is right, AoL must pay

Yamuna: NGT is right, AoL must pay

The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) indictment of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AoL) for the damage to the Yamuna floodplains caused by the World Cultural Festival it held there in March 2016 was only to be expected. There were various accounts, independent of one another, of the destruction of the ecosystem of the area during the preparations for the festival and by the actual event. The floodplains are ecologically sensitive and fragile. The Yamuna floodplains were home to many forms of natural vegetation like shrubs, grasses and trees and countless organisms, insects and animals. Reports had said that most of them had been destroyed or had disappeared. An expert
committee headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Water Resources, confirmed this after studying the impact of the festival on the plains. The committee said
that it would take almost 10 years to restore the damaged floodplains, and it would cost Rs 13.29 crore.

The NGT had last year ordered the AoL to pay an interim penalty of Rs 5 crore for the damage. It has not levied any additional penalty now but has directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to carry out the restoration work and recover the money needed for it from AoL. The NGT severely criticised the DDA for “failing to perform its statutory function of maintaining the ecology” of the floodplains. The central government and the Delhi government also colluded in the destruction, though the media and environmentalists had brought the matter to the attention of the public and the governments and warned of the impending damage. But government agencies, officials and even the army were ordered to extend help for the conduct of the event. Senior ministers and officials, including the prime minister, attended it. AoL’s political connections and influence may have helped it to make the show a “success”, but it must now pay for the excesses it committed.

The NGT did well to stick to the law and to enforce the principle that the polluter should pay. It refused to go into matters such as who authorised the AoL to hold the festival, as they were beyond its remit. AoL’s position and responses from the beginning have been wrong and have not enhanced its reputation. It dillydallied on the payment of the interim penalty and has questioned the credentials and objectivity of the expert committee. It is planning to appeal against the NGT ruling in the Supreme Court. By doing all this, AoL is hurting its own image. It should accept its mistake, pay up and help to restore and rebuild the damaged ecology of the floodplains.

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