Facts: Art of Living Case on Yamuna Flood Plain –
The Art of Living Foundation, founded in 1981 by Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, is a non-governmental organization striving on humanitarian and educational matters. In March 2016, in the Yamuna floodplains in New Delhi, this organization organized a three-day cultural event, the World Cultural Festival, from March 11 to 13. It was arranged to mark the organization’s 35 years since its inception.
It is considered that the Yamuna bank is ecologically very weak, but the arrangements for the festival were fantastic. A 7-acre stage was set up, believed to be the world’s largest, and capable of hosting 35,000 musicians and dancers. In addition to 650 portable toilets spread over a thousand acres of area, new dirt tracks were installed. The case, according to the organizers, was attended by 35 lakh individuals and over 20,000 international guests.
A petition was filed on 8 February 2016 against the Delhi Development Authority Original Application (OA) No 65 of 2016 by Shri Manoj Mishra, a retired officer of the Indian Foreign Service, before the National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi (DDA). This Original Application was clubbed with other miscellaneous petitions and the respondent parties, other than DDA, were the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and Climate change. Shri Mishra had previously lodged a written complaint with the Lt. Governor of Delhi against the respondents on 11 December 2015 and later lodged the present application before the NGT.
Issues raised: –
- If the Art of Living Foundation has been and is being eroded ecologically, economically, and biologically by the Yamuna floodplains and wetlands.
- If the promoters are liable to pay some fee or fine for such harm and to restore the venue to its pre-existing state in the event of such adverse environmental effects and other consequences if any.
Petitioner’s Argument –
The Original Application prayed for the case to be stalled as it would be an environmental catastrophe and set a dangerous potential precedent. It was also demanded that respondent No. 3 (The Art of Living Foundation) be severely fined for environmental destruction and ordered to restore the entire location to its pre-existing condition.
Respondent’s Argument –
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Respondent No.1, argued that the region did not completely fall under its control.
Respondent No. 2, Ministry of the Environment Forest and Climate Change, argued that the Yamuna River is under its control as a tributary of the Ganga River, but since the construction on the floodplains was small and temporary, it did not need the Ministry’s permission. It further acknowledged the plea that the Ministry of Water Resources was responsible for the role of maintaining the floodplains.
Respondent No. 3, the Art of Living Foundation, argued that all the requisite approvals and clearances had been obtained from various regulatory bodies, and only then did the construction work began. Furthermore, AOL claimed that it was not bound by the Yamuna Judgment’s principles since it was not a party to the said judgment and hence could not be held responsible for the devastation of the floodplains. It was further argued by respondent No 3 that farming operations, disposal of debris, and other activities had already ruined the floodplains a long time ago.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation was held responsible by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the alleged damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains as a result of the World Cultural Festival organized in March 2016. The NGT panel found that the organizers of the Art of Living Festival violated environmental standards and seriously damaged the region of the food aircraft at the Yamuna River bank in Delhi.
The Government of Delhi and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) previously approved organizers of the Art of Living festival, but under some circumstances, it was an. After falling heavily on the foundation for not revealing its full plans, the NGT panel levied a penalty of Rs. 5 Crore on the Art of Living Foundation as environmental compensation. The panel also warned the AOL Foundation that the grant of Rs.2.5 crore which the Ministry of Culture is supposed to pay AOL would be attached in case of failure to pay the penalized sum.
While reacting to the verdict with dismay, the Art of Living Foundation expressed dissatisfaction and asserted that it had complied with all environmental laws and standards and that NGT did not accept its submissions. In a declaration, the Art of Living Foundation said, “We will appeal to the Supreme Court.” We are sure we are going to get justice.
The case is fascinating and NGT has been strongly criticized for how it approached the problem. The tribunal was set up to give the State’s contribution to our care for the environment a tangible form and is perhaps the most relevant and empowered body to decide instances of environmental problems and harm caused to it. I believe that the tribunal’s main purpose is to protect the environment.
But in this case, despite being aware that the Yamuna floodplains are seriously impaired from an environmental point of view, it encouraged the organizers to go forward with the event, knowing full well that after such a large event, the state of the floodplains would become much worse. The judgment thus stamped the ‘pay and pollute’ scheme and allowed the ecosystem to be abused. The case has set a poor potential precedent; it is likely to allow parties to use the decision to their benefit and weaken our battle against harm to the environment.