Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Bangalore-based spiritual guru has recently been chided by the National Green Tribunal, the country’s highest environment body with powers equivalent to that of the Supreme Court. The Art of Living founder criticised a recent report on the Yamuna riverbed by a committee of the NGT, alleging bias. The report slams The Art of Living World Culture Festival held last March on the banks of the Yamuna for damaging the riverbank and has also quantified the damage.
A team of environment experts has testified to the NGT that the World Culture Festival, spread across several hundred acres, completely destroyed the riverbed and that it would take at least 30 years and about ₹42 Crores to reverse the damage.
The counsel of environment activist and petitioner, in this case, Manoj Mishra, urged the tribunal, “The Art of Living has already deposited ₹5 Crore as compensation. We should start restoration work with that money immediately as valuable time would be lost.”
The Art of Living Foundation has completely denied the findings of the NGT report and denied damaging the fragile ecosystem of the Yamuna floodplains. Sri Sri, in a Facebook post, said, “If at all any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and State governments and the NGT itself, for giving the permission. If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival.”
In 2016, the NGT had allowed The Art of Living to hold a three-day festival on the floodplains while expressing its helplessness in stopping the event, citing fait accompli (because much of the construction had happened). The Art of Living, however, maintained that there was nothing wrong in the NGT statements, and Sri Sri’s statements were merely his opinions. The National Green Tribunal also has the power to sue an individual for contempt, just like any other regular court of law.
Kedar Desai, spokesperson for The Art of Living said that the expert committee of the NGT, which was supposed to be non-interested parties to the case and were to act as eyes and ears of the judges, went about giving biased interviews while the case was still sub-judice. The 47-page report was submitted in April 2017, stating that the 3-day event led to the loss of “almost all natural vegetation”.
On 10 March 2016, NGT slapped a fine of Rs. 5 crores on the Foundation as environmental compensation while allowing it to conduct the event. The Art of Living only paid ₹25 lakhs initially. On 7 June 2016, after much deliberation, it deposited ₹4.75 crore as environment compensation. The Foundation has since maintained its stance that though it has deposited the money, it had not caused any damage to the environment.
Several violations were alleged, including the dumping of construction debris, building pontoon bridges and destruction of floodplains. The petitioner, Save the Yamuna Abhiyan, an NGO, also claimed that a large number of birds and other “natural life” had been impacted by the work. The NGT also slapped fines of ₹5 lakhs on the Delhi Development Authority and ₹1 Lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee for ‘dereliction of duty’.
Shockingly, Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra exhibited utter disregard for the ecology of the city he governs. He mocked the findings of the panel and had the audacity to say that the event should be held again and “only on its banks”. Moreover, despite the event allegedly flouting environmental laws, several politicians attended it, thereby legitimising the event. This hints at how little politicians care about ecology and environment.
By Prantik Sengupta