New Delhi: An expert committee has told the National Green Tribunal that the 'World Culture Festival' festival organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living (AOL) on the Yamuna has "completely destroyed" the riverbed.
In its report, submitted to the NGT on July 28, the seven-member panel, headed by Shashi Shekhar, the secretary of Ministry of Water Resources, said: "The committee observes that entire floodplain area used for the main event site i.e. between DND flyover and the Barapulla drain (on the right bank of river Yamuna) has been completely destroyed, not simply damaged. The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation.”
"The area where the grand stage was erected (and the area immediately behind it) is heavily consolidated - most likely with a different kind of external material used to level the ground and compress it. A huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps for access from the DND flyover and from the two pontoon bridges across the Barapulla drain," the committee told a bench headed by Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar.
The Art of Living has rejected the allegations, saying it is asking the tribunal to reconstitute panel of experts.
The tribunal had directed the committee to inspect the site of the World Culture Festival held in March this year.
In its 47-page report, the committee, comprising senior scientists and experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, IIT, Delhi and other agencies, said that due to the three-day event, the floodplain has lost "almost all its natural vegetation" like trees, shrubs, tall grasses, aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth which provides habitat to large number of animals, insects and mud-dwelling organisms.
"These organisms were rendered homeless, driven away by intense activity and many were consigned to graves under the debris. This is an invisible loss of biodiversity which cannot be easily assessed and most may never be able to return. Far more significant changes are expected in the micro-organisms which are critical to ecosystem functioning," it said.
The report further states that construction of ramps and roads, alteration of water bodies and flattening of the ground has completely damaged the diversity of habitats.
"The physical damage in the floodplain and its wetlands include a change in topography which has a direct bearing on the diversity of habitats. Construction of ramps and roads, filling up of water bodies and levelling of the ground together with compaction have almost completely eliminated the natural physical features and the diversity of habitats," the report said.
(With PTI inputs)