New Delhi: Faulting every concerned government agency over a cultural event to be held on the fragile banks of Yamuna this weekend, a green court has slapped a Rs.5-crore fine on its organisers, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-led Art of Living. But it did not stay the event.
Acting on petitions over alleged violation of environment laws, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) also fined the central government-led Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Rs.5 lakh and another Rs.1 lakh on the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
"What is your primary duty? Do you believe Art of Living has not done any damage to the environment," the livid bench said, even describing the city pollution committee "incompetent" and failing to discharge its duties.
"All (government) authorities have failed to fulfill their duties," said the principal bench of Justice Swatanter Kumar, Justice M.S. Nambiar, Justice D.K. Agrawal and Justice B.S. Sajwan.
“We have no hesitation in holding that DPCC has failed to discharge its statutory obligation despite the fact that the Foundation had submitted an application for obtaining its consent. The Board has failed to exercise due diligence and in fact it has exercised its authority improperly. Thus, we impose costs of Rs. 1 lakh on DPCC,” NGT said in its order.
“This cannot be termed as a recreational activity. 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 tribunal said.
The NGT told the water resources ministry that "managing, conserving and developing the river plains primarily falls under your domain".
"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 insisting the fine on Art of Living may be increased manifold.
“We impose an Environmental Compensation, initially of Rs.5 crore. This amount would be adjusted towards the final compensation to be paid by the Foundation for restoration work."
The tribunal directed its committee to submit a report within four weeks for steps required “for restoration, restitution and rejuvenation of the flood plains to its original status”.
The order referred to views of experts as also documents and said 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 said the event has “further disturbed the aquatic life of the river and destroyed water bodies and wet lands on the flood plains, which were in existence.
“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,” Justice Kumar said, reading the order.
The order also said that information provided by the AoL was “incomplete, vague and uncertain” since it did not provide any comprehensive plan about huge construction, levelling activity, approach roads, pontoon bridges, ramps, parking and a huge stage which is 40 feet in height, 1,000 feet in length and 200 feet in breadth.
The NGT was moved over the alleged violation of environmental laws and pollution of Yamuna river likely to be caused by the March 11-13 event. AoL told the tribunal that three lakh people would attend. However, in its
promotional literature, it had claimed that 35 lakh people would come from 155 countries.
There were four related petitions -- by Manoj Misra and by Anand Arya against the Delhi Development Authority, by Pramod Kumar Tyagi against Art of Living and by Ojasvi Party against the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The bench it was unable to issue prohibitory orders due to delay and laches on the part of the applicant in approaching the tribunal and for the fact that removal of construction and restoration of the area was not possible at this stage.
"This tribunal is primarily dealing with the ecological, environmental and biodiversity damage done to the river and the flood plains by the activity of the Foundation and the environmental consequences of holding such an event," it said.
"It is the consistent view of experts and is sufficiently evident from documents placed on record that flood plains have been drastically tampered with while destroying the natural flow of the river, reeds, grasses, natural vegetation on the river bed," it said.
"Furthermore, they have constructed ramps, roads, compaction of earth, pontoon bridges and other semi-permanent or temporary structures etc. even without the permission of the concerned authorities including Ministry of Water Resources."
Art of Living admitted in court that they had spent Rs.25.63 crore for the event, of which Rs.15.63 crore was for stage formation and marquees while the remaining Rs.10 crore was paid for decoration and lighting.