Environment

We Have Been Harassed, We are Victims, Says the Art of Living on Yamuna Issue

The organisation headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has claimed that their voice had never been heard and they were hoping for justice.

The Art of Living has, as of now, paid only 25 lakh rupees from the fine it was asked to pay. Credit: PTI

The Art of Living has, as of now, paid only 25 lakh rupees from the fine it was asked to pay. Credit: PTI

The Art of Living, which was held guilty by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) of damaging the Yamuna floodplains while making arrangements for the World Cultural Festival from March 11-13 and was told to pay an environmental compensation of 5 crore rupees — out of which it has paid only 25 lakh rupees — has now claimed that it has been victimised.

It is now insisting that the assessment of the damage was not scientifically done when it was penalised and neither was the expert committee constituted to assess the damage adopting a scientific approach. Here is a response of Art of Living Foundation to a questionnaire sent by The Wire:

Did The Art of Living prevent the expert committee from inspecting the floodplains on April 15. If so, why?

The NGT team which came down for inspection didn’t know of their own letter dated April 1, 2016 which they had written to the NGT court stating that they will start inspection only after The Art of Living vacates the site and hands it over to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The DDA in turn informed the NGT expert committee about it.

So when they suddenly came in with a JCB machine to dig the ground much against what was decided in the court, they were informed of the same and therefore they agreed to leave.

Already much has been falsely alleged against The Art of Living which is not true, so we could not allow more to happen there while we were in the process of clearing up the last bit with the help of our volunteer team to hand over the site to the DDA in the best possible condition.

When did The Art of Living hand over possession of the floodplains to the DDA? Has it informed the DDA about how it cleaned up the place?

We handed over the ground on April 18.

The DDA told the court on April 23, “We were and we are in possession of the site. It’s a DDA land and was given for only an interim use to The Art Of Living for the purposes of hosting the festival as a licensee only.”

On March 28 The Art of Living gave a letter to the Vice Chairman of the DDA in which it was stated that it was in the process of clearing out of the venue as the venue was free from illegal encroachments and we requested the DDA to ensure adequate security at the venue so that no illegal encroachments took place.

Due to this letter, the DDA immediately put up big yellow billboards all over the venue’ stating, “THIS IS DDA LAND,TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED” and pictures of these have appeared in the media as well.

What has The Art of Living told the NGT about how it viewed the functioning of the expert committee? Has it asked for details on the mandate of the committee and the yardsticks with which it would evaluate the damage, if any, to the floodplains caused due to the cultural event?

The Art of Living submitted to the NGT that this was not a neutral committee as they tried a case regarding the Yamuna floodplains in the NGT on 13/01/2015. Therefore they were an interested party. For a free and fair trial we need to have a committee which is neutral.

We were not in the scope of enquiry when the order was passed. The committee had merely done a visual assessment of the ground. There was no sampling or scientific assessment of the damage to the ground.

Our question is who will make the assessment regarding the condition of the site when it was handed over to us? Without this vital piece of information, how do we restore the site to the state in which it was handed over to us?

How much amount has The Art of Living paid so far as environmental compensation as per the March 9 order of the NGT? What about the remaining amount?

The Art of Living has paid 25 lakh rupees till now and has applied to the NGT to pay the balance through bank guarantee. The decision regarding this is expected soon.

The Art of Living has repeatedly claimed it was being unjustly targeted in the entire issue. Why?

There are permanent structures on the floodplains for years, then why has The Art of Living’s event, which was a three-day event for three to four hours each day, singled out for such unjustified scrutiny? None of the permanent structures — the DND flyway, Batla House, Millennium Bus Depot, Commonwealth Games Village, Delhi Secretariat, Sonia Vihar — have been fined or harassed in this manner. It is clear that there are vested interests at play, who have raised all sorts of wild and baseless allegations at us.

Shouldn’t what applies to The Art of Living be also made applicable to all others present on the floodplains? What kind of compensation has been obtained from them?

Also, without any scientific assessment, a compensation amount was set. How can you decide upon an amount without quantifying it scientifically?

Our voice has never been heard. We are victims. We hope we get justice now.

  • GLN Prasad

    To be Honest to the issue, how many political parties in the past destroyed such environment and not even a rupee was ever demanded from them? (Not supporting any particular organisation, and the law should be equal and every organisation that use public authority’s space and resources must compensate the loss)

  • Anjan Basu

    The Art of Living victimised? AOL that cocked a snook at the law of the land and at sundry institutions that sought — in vain — to rein in the arrogant Ravishankar? This must be one of the most outrageous claims made by any oganisation anywhere in India in many years! It is not for nothing that AOL is known in Bangalore as the Art of Lying. What it peddles is not even sophisticated half-truths, but plain, crude lies. The petulance is only intended as a cover- up for all this. Ravishankar has surely made the grade now: a Bharat Ratna awaits him, maybe the country’s presidency, too. And come to think of it, why not the Nobel either ?