The Art of Living Foundation (AOL) has said it will challenge the order of the National Green Tribunal which slapped a fine of Rs 5 crore on the foundation as environmental compensation while allowing it to organise the cultural extravaganza on the banks of Yamuna in Delhi.
A defiant AOL chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said that he is ready to go to jail but will not pay the fine to NGT as he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“We have not done anything wrong. We have been taintless and will remain so. We we will go to jail but not pay a penny,” said Ravi Shankar.
AOL is organising a three-day World Cultural Festival from March 11 to March 13. The grand event is scheduled to host around 20,000 guests from 155 different countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the event in East Delhi on Friday.
“We appreciate all those who came in support of World Culture Festival. The festival will go as per planned and, since we have not violated any rules, we will appeal against the NGT order,” an AOL spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“We are not satisfied with the verdict. We will appeal against it. Satyameva Jayate!” tweeted AOL chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar after the Green Tribunal’s verdict.
“I appeal to all parties to not politicize the #WCF2016. It is to unite all cultures, nations, religions & ideologies. Let’s come together! 172 international dignitaries comprising current & former Heads of State, Ministers & Members of Parliament are attending #WCF2016….Around 20,000 guests from 155 countries are arriving. Let India welcome them to #WCF2016 with one voice & our traditional hospitality” said Ravi Shankar in a series of tweets.
On Wednesday afternoon, NGT ordered the go-ahead after expressing its helplessness in banning the event because of “fait accompli”. In its order, NGT imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL as environmental compensation after slamming it for not disclosing its full plans for the event. The tribunal also came down heavily on the Environment Ministry and Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
“For the reason of delay and laches on the part of the applicant in approaching the Tribunal and for the reason of fait accompli capable of restoration and restitution, we are unable to grant prayer of prohibitory order and a mandatory direction for removal of construction and restoration of the area in question to the applicant at this stage,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar said.
“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 respects. In that regard and in exercise of our powers under Sections 15 and 17 of the NGT Act, 2010, we impose an Environmental Compensation, initially of Rs 5 crores,” the green panel said.
Slamming the DDA, the bench said, “Strangely, it (DDA) has neither conducted inspection of the site prior to the grant of permission nor during operation or subsequent thereto. Consequently, we impose a cost of Rs 5 lakh on DDA for its defaults and non-performance of its statutory functions.”
The environment ministry had told the NGT that programmes like the cultural fest and temporary structures do not require environmental clearances under the environmental law and environment notification.
Activists had raked up questions of serious environmental violations on the flood plains of Yamuna. The tribunal’s order came on the pleas by NGOs and environmentalists who had sought cancellation of the festival, saying it would seriously endanger the fragile ecosystem on the riverbed.
The government also came under attack from the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha for allowing the event and deploying the Army for constructing a pontoon bridge in the area.
“Who issued permission to build pontoon bridge,” questioned Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Upper House on Wednesday.
(With inputs from PTI)