World Culture Festival: NGT’s green light comes with ₹5-crore tag

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 09, 2016

Defence personnel seen on the pontoon bridge built for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival 2016 in the Capital

The stage being put up for the mega event

Art of Living show will go on; DDA, Delhi pollution control body also penalised

You could call it the Art of Getting Away with a light rap on the knuckles.

In an anti-climactic end to a week-long drama, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday permitted the World Culture Festival organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation to proceed, and imposed a minimal fine of ₹5 crore.

This is substantially less than the ₹120-crore fine earlier recommended by a committee appointed by the NGT to assess the environmental damage on the Yamuna flood plains, the site of the festival.

The NGT, however, reprimanded both the Centre and the Foundation for environmental violations. It also imposed fines of ₹5 lakh on the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and ₹1 lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee for failing in their duty.

The Tribunal also pulled up the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for declaring that no environmental clearance was needed, which is contrary to official notifications, it said.

The NGT order said, “It is sufficiently evident that the flood plains have been drastically tampered with while destroying the natural flow of the river, reeds, grasses, natural vegetation on the river bed. It has further disturbed the aquatic life of the river and destroyed water bodies and wet lands on the flood plains.”

The Tribunal pulled up the Foundation for not disclosing to any of the authorities the details of the massive constructions, levelling activity, construction of approach roads, pontoon bridges, ramps, parking and a huge stage. The Foundation went ahead with construction without the permission of the Ministry of Water Resources and other authorities.

“DDA ought to have applied its mind,” the order said, noting that DDA authorities did not visit the site before or after giving permission that itself “is in excess of the powers vested in DDA.” . Any construction activity on the Yamuna flood plains needed the approval of the Tribunal itself.

‘Bad precedent’

Ritwick Dutta, Counsel for environmental activists, said that while the NGT has found the Foundation guilty of environmental violation, the order sets a bad precedent. The message it conveyed was that “you can pay and go ahead with it.” Both the Central and the State governments are sponsors of the event, which “celebrates a culture of violation.”

Dutta added that a principal committee would study the damage to the environment, and the final compensation amount to be paid by the Foundation would be determined. The committee is expected to give its report in four weeks.

A committee appointed by the NGT had earlier recommended a fine of ₹120 crore for the environmental damage.

The Foundation is holding the Festival as part of its 35th anniversary celebrations between March 11 and 13. While the President and the Prime Minister have cancelled their participation, some members of Modi government appeared to be batting for the event.

Opposition voices

JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav, with support from other Opposition members, said the Centre should ban the festival immediately as it would destroy the ecologically fragile Yamuna belt. “How can DDA give permission for such an event?” he asked.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said it was “highly irregular” that the Army had been summoned to facilitate a private function.

A statement from the festival organisers said, "We appreciate all those who came in support of the World Culture Festival. The festival will go on as planned, and since we have not violated any rules, we will appeal against the NGT order."

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Published on March 09, 2016
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