NGT gives nod to World Culture Festival, slaps Rs 5 crore fine on AOL; Sri Sri to challenge order

The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday cleared the decks for the three-day cultural extravaganza of Art of Living (AOL) on the flood plains of Yamuna river from Friday.

NGT gives nod to World Culture Festival, slaps Rs 5 crore fine on AOL; Sri Sri to challenge order
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Delhi: The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday cleared the decks for the three-day cultural extravaganza of Art of Living (AOL) on the flood plains of Yamuna river from Friday but imposed a fine of Rs five crores on it as environmental compensation.

After posing tough questions, the tribunal also slapped fine of Rs five lakh on DDA and Rs one lakh on Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for not discharging statutory functions.

"All (government) authorities have failed to fulfill their duties," said the principal bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar, Justice MS Nambiar, Justice DK Agrawal and Justice BS Sajwan.

"For the damage caused to environment, ecology, biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the foundation should be held liable for its restoration in all respects," said the bench.

"What is your primary duty? Do you believe Art of Living has not done any damage to the environment," the bench added, even describing the city pollution committee "incompetent" and failing to discharge its duties, as per IANS.

"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.

The bench said this amount would be paid by AOL prior to commencement of the event and would be adjusted towards final compensation determined to be paid by it for restoration work.

The tribunal also asked AOL to give an undertaking by tomorrow that enzymes will not be released into Yamuna river and that no further degradation of environment will happen.

Besides slapping the fines, the tribunal directed AOL to develop the entire area in question into a biodiversity park.

The panel held that the permission granted by the DDA to the foundation for the event on June 30, 2015 was a "vague permission" and was not in consonance with orders of the NGT.

"Cultural activity could be recreational but the entire construction of ramps, roads, accumulation of debris, alteration of the natural topography and removal of natural vegetation from the flood plains, cannot be said to be recreational. It is a complete project in itself and the DDA ought to have applied its mind. Strangely, it 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 bench said.

It rejected the contention of MoEF that it was not required for the Foundation to seek environmental clearance for the project relating to all matters of construction.

"The stand of MoEF is contrary to the Notification, particularly with respect to development of an area of more than 50 hectare as contained in the EIA Notification, 2006," it said.

At the same time, the tribunal also constituted a committee of the representatives of Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and said it shall immediately inspect the site.

It said the committee shall issue directions by tomorrow with regard to the source of water, collection and disposal of the municipal solid waste and sewerage generated during the event and also issue directions to ensure that there is no further environmental degradation or adverse impact on public health.

The bench said that certain material deficiencies/ discrepancies were pointed out by the Delhi Police regarding safety, construction stability and other requirements.

It also directed the Principal Committee constituted by it, to submit a report within four weeks from today, in relation to steps required to be taken for restoration and rejuvenation of flood plains to their original status.

The tribunal's order came on the pleas by NGOs and environmentalists who had sought cancellation of the festival on the ground that it would seriously endanger the fragile ecosystem on the riverbed.

Environmental activist Anand Arya, who filed the petition to stop the event, rued that over 1000-acres of the sensitive area between Delhi and Noida, predominantly marshland, stand shorn of even a "single blade" of grass.

Another petitioner Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan questioned the "legality" of the event, and said the area, being destroyed "every moment", will take a long time to recover and slammed the organisers for the "lack of understanding" on their part, as per PTI.

The NGT clearance came on a day the Delhi High Court described the event, from whose valedictory function the President has already pulled out, as a disaster from the ecological point of view.

The AOL event figured in Parliament on Wednesday with the some Opposition parties questioning how the government deployed the Indian Army to construct pontoon bridges for the event. 

Delhi Police have also flagged their concerns about managing security in view of large gathering on the Yamuna flood plains and also about the "structural stability" of the venue. 

However, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that controversies over the event should now end in view of National Green Tribunal order. 

"Now that NGT (National Green Tribunal) has given its verdict, all politics and controversies around AOL event should be put to rest. It's a huge cultural event to which people from 155 countries are coming. Delhi welcomes all guests," Kejriwal tweeted.

On the other hand, late in the night, the AOL announced that it will appeal against the NGT order. Any challenge to the NGT order usually lies with the Supreme Court.

(With Agency inputs)