Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led Art of Living (AOL) Foundation is now facing fresh charges as National Green Tribunal (NGT) pulled up the organisation for “wrong things”. The NGT had said that the organisation had prevented its expert panel from visiting Yamuna floodplains that hosted the World Culture Festival last month.
The NGT had constituted an expert committee after it found that the festival hosted by AOL caused environmental damage to the flood plains. The committee was expected to inspect the venue, to determine a compensation amount for rejuvenation of the site. At a hearing, the expert committee also informed the NGT that the AOL was yet to pay the initial compensation amount that the Tribunal had ordered it to deposit within three weeks of its order on 9 March.
At the hearing, advocates representing AOL and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) defended orgainsations decision to prevent the expert panel from visiting the site. Gautam Vig of AOL argued: “The clean-up of the floodplains had not been completely carried out yet and therefore the inspection could not be carried out till we had vacated the site. Clean-up work was still taking place. As the issue of the inspection of the land is a matter before the NGT, the site visit also has to be conducted only after we notified the DDA… that the land has been vacated.”
In response, the Principal Bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar questioned the AOL’s decision: “Who are you to tell them that they cannot inspect the site? It is very disappointing that you threw the inspection team away from the site. You cannot keep doing wrong things and then say that the law will take its own course.” The Bench also directed the DDA to get its officer in charge of this issue to clear the status of the land.
On 4 April, the head of the expert committee, Shashi Shekar (Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources), had written to the NGT stating that the inspection of the committee can only be carried out when the land had been vacated. AOL, however, assured the Principal Bench that the land would be vacated and that the committee would be able to visit the site and present its report to the bench before April 21.
The committee was supposed to inspect the site and submit its report four weeks after the conclusion of event on 13 March. On February 20, the committee had recommended a compensation fee of Rs 120-crore for the environmental impact the event would have on the floodplains.
At the hearing on 9 March, however, the NGT charged AOL with a Rs 5-crore “initial compensation” to be adjusted against the final amount determined. In response, the AOL paid Rs 25 lakh as an expression of faith on the promise that they would pay the full amount within three weeks.