Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation got mired in an environmental controversy recently. National Green Tribunal (NGT), the pro-environment body, suggested that Sri Sri should pay a fine of Rs 120 crore for damaging the Yamuna floodplains around Noida. The foundation is making preparations for its 35th Anniversary religious event. The spiritual leader’s Art of Living Foundation plans to hold a World Culture Festival from March 11-13 on the banks of the river.
Earlier this month, the NGT had set up a committee in response to a petition by activist Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. The panel — headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary of the water resources ministry, comprised of CR Babu of the environment and forests ministry, Professor AK Gosain of IIT-Delhi and Professor Brij Gopal of Jaipur — prepared a report after visiting the upcoming festival site.
In its report, the committee stated that small water bodies were filled up, and all natural vegetation were removed. Due to this, birds and aquatic lives are threatened. The panel believes that the festival, which will see a turnout of 3.5 million people, will harm Yamuna’s delicate ecology, and the fine of Rs 120 crore will be used in rehabilitating the damaged floodplains. The report does not seek cancellation of the event, but the green court will hear the case tomorrow, on March 1.
The Art of Living Foundation refuted the reports, and stated that it had not used even a bag of cement to build up the site, and have used only used mud, wood and other eco-friendly products. However, a look at the photographs of the site available with various media sites doesn’t purport their claim.
National daily the Hindustan Times visited the venue and found huge machines were clearing over 1,000 acres of the area, and tents, hutments, and pontoon bridges were being erected. The seven-acre stage seems anything but eco-friendly. The daily also reported that road rollers and excavators are also constantly at work. Vast stretches have been cleared and erections are put up right on the river channel.
Last year, the NGT had passed a judgment prohibiting any sort of construction-activity on the floodplains. The question then rises as to how Sri Sri’s foundation got a permission to revamp 1,000 acre land for putting up its event. There cannot be multiple bodies who decide which party gets access to the floodplains, and which doesn’t.
As is the norm in India, the case gets a little convoluted, where one agency gives approval, another puts a fine, and the allegations are vehemently denied by the accused, before the court gives its verdict.
May be it would be also wise for NGT to fine the defaulter body who “allowed” the spiritual foundation to ravage the floodplains of the Yamuna. If at all, the tribunal decides to fine the Art of Living Foundation, it should also fine the authority that gave Sri Sri’s foundation the land to use. Such a step will only make the judgement fair.