New Delhi: Fourteen months after the Art of Living organised a mega three-day cultural event on the banks of Yamuna, the issue of the damage caused to the floodplains is still hanging fire with the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The various agencies that were involved with the event or had given permission for it are passing the blame on each other.
On Thursday, May 11, the NGT pulled up the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for questioning the conclusions drawn by the seven-member expert committee that had evaluated the damage caused.
NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar stopped the DDA counsel from casting aspersions on the panel saying “it is not fair” to pass comments on those who were committed to the protection of the environment. The panel was headed by Shashi Shekhar, the secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources, and comprised senior scientists and experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, IIT-Delhi and other agencies.
The DDA counsel then contended that he was only questioning the basis of the findings of the committee and the technology adopted by it to arrive at the conclusions. The expert committee had in its report in April stated that Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore the Yamuna floodplains.
Following the report of the committee on the damage to the floodplain, which was allegedly ravaged due to the cultural extravaganza, AOL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had stated that if anyone should be fined for the damage, it is the NGT, which had allowed the event to go through. His alleged defamatory statements against the tribunal with respect to environmental degradation on the Yamuna floodplains had drawn the ire of the NGT.
On April 27, the NGT issued a notice in a contempt plea to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for accusing the Centre and the tribunal of damaging the Yamuna floodplains by allowing the event to take place. The contempt plea against NGT was moved by the main petitioner in the original case, Manoj Mishra, the convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
When the contempt plea came up for hearing on May 9, the Delhi government, central government and the DDA all refused to take any responsibility for the damage caused to the floodplains.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change submitted that it had no role to play as no clearance was required for the event under the environment impact notification and, therefore, it could not be held accountable for the damage. But the ministry offered to assist with the rejuvenation and restoration of the floodplains.
Similarly, the DDA, which also comes under the Centre through the Ministry of Urban Development, submitted that it could not be held “vicariously liable” as it only gave permission for the event.
Its advocate said the floodplain demarcation was not done at the time the permission was granted to the AOL for the event and hence the department cannot specify clearly whether there was impact on the floodplain or not.
It also submitted that it did not know the scale of the event at the time it permitted its conduct.
Its counsel stated that permission was granted to AOL for the festival after making it clear to them that no permanent or semi-permanent construction of any kind would be allowed on the riverbed.