Green Tribunal offers relief to Art of Living event

RSTV Bureau
New Delhi:  A securityman guards near the stage of the three-day World Peace Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in New Delhi on Wednesday.  PTI Photo

New Delhi: A securityman guards near the stage of the three-day World Peace Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo

On Friday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) rapped the chief of Art of Living (AOL) Foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar for his comment that he was ready to go to jail but not pay a penny to the Green Tribunal. NGT had slapped AOL with a fee of Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation for holding a three-day cultural festival at the flood plains of Yamuna.

“When a person of that stature makes such statements, it hits the rule of law. If anybody hurts the image of the tribunal, he will be taken to rule of law,” said NGT.

However, the NGT considered the plea of the foundation that it was a charitable organisation and it was difficult for it to generate the huge amount of Rs 5 crore in such a short period. The NGT asked AOL to pay Rs 25 lakh immediately failing which the grant of Rs 2.5 crore sanctioned to it by Centre will be attached. It also granted the foundation 3 weeks time to pay the remaining amount of Rs 4.75 crores.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also clarified that the amount of Rs 5 crore was to be treated as environmental compensation and not as penalty.

When the counsel appearing for AOL submitted its statement that said that it will be difficult to pay so much so quickly, the bench said adherence to the rule of law is not only the duty of government but citizens also.

“Certainly adherence to the rule of law is the duty of not only the government but citizens also. The rule of law is a very foundation of administration of justice….If the rule of law is hurt, it will affect the justice dispensation system. This controversy loses its significance by the stand taken by the Foundation. We do not wish to go into the merits of the controversy,” the bench said and fixed April 4 as the next date of hearing.

The order of the tribunal came on a plea by environmental activists seeking a stay on AOL’s World Cultural Festival from today to March 13, alleging that they have not deposited Rs 5 crore fine.

The petition alleged that AOL had not taken mandatory permissions from competent authorities like fire department, police and the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).

On being asked by the tribunal if the AOL had received the Rs 2.5 crore grant from the Ministry of Culture, the counsel for the foundation informed that Rs 1.68 crore had been disbursed to it out of the total amount.

The tribunal also pulled up Ministry of Water Resources for not doing anything to protect river Yamuna from pollution despite directions.

“What have you done? Have you inspected the river? Despite directions you have not checked pollution in the river,” the bench said.

On Thursday, the tribunal had directed AOL Foundation to pay the entire amount of Rs 5 crore by today saying law will take its own course if it fails to do so.

The green panel had also directed Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue proper directions to the organizers of the event with regard to disposal of municipal solid waste and drinking water.

Earlier the NGT had expressed its helplessness in banning the event, saying it was “fait accompli”.

Nevertheless, it had imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL as environmental compensation for not disclosing its full plans.

The tribunal, which found several environmental violations by the organisers, blamed the delay on the part of environmental activists in raising the issue before it which compelled it to grant permission for event.

(With inputs from PTI)