Sri Sri's cultural extravaganza gets nod but with conditions and a hefty fine

It also fined Delhi Development Authority Rs 5 lakh and Delhi Pollution Control Board Rs 1 lakh.

New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday slapped a fine of Rs 5 crore on Art of Living Foundation (AOL) as it heard a plea seeking stay against spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘World Culture Festival’. The tribunal hasn’t issued any prohibitory orders against the holding of the event, which is scheduled for March 11.

It also fined Delhi Development Authority Rs 5 lakh and Delhi Pollution Control Board Rs 1 lakh.

Read: Put controversies around Sri Sri’s event to 'rest', says Kejriwal

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, asked AOL, headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to deposit Rs 5 crores as environmental compensation before the event begins on March 11.

The NGT clearance came on a day the Delhi High Court described the event, from whose valedictory function the President has already pulled out, as a disaster from the ecological point of view.

The tribunal also asked AOL to give an undertaking by Thursday that enzymes will not be released into Yamuna river and that no further degradation of environment will happen.

Read: Sri Sri's event: 'Army making bridge in view of people's security, safety'

Besides slapping the fines, the tribunal directed AOL to develop the entire area in question into a biodiversity park. The tribunal's order came on the pleas by NGOs and environmentalists who had sought cancellation of the festival on the ground that it would seriously endanger the fragile ecosystem on the riverbed.

Environmental activist Anand Arya, who filed the petition to stop the event, rued that over 1000-acres of the sensitive area between Delhi and Noida, predominantly marshland, stand shorn of even a "single blade" of grass.

Another petitioner Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan questioned the "legality" of the event, and said the area, being destroyed "every moment", will take a long time to recover and slammed the organisers for the "lack of understanding" on their part.

During two days of hearing, the NGT had posed tough questions over who had given clearance to the 'World Cultural Festival' in which 35 lakh people are expected to participate.

Earlier, the Water Resources ministry, who faced tough questions from the NGT, told the panel it has not granted permission for the festival.

Read: No permission for Sri Sri’s event: Water Resources Ministry to NGT

Responding to questions from the green panel, the Water Resources ministry distanced itself from the controversy, saying it has not given any clearance for the three-day event.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, whereas, told the NGT bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar that no environment clearance was required for setting up temporary structures on Yamuna flood plains.

Read: Sri Sri event: Don’t test our patience, NGT tells environment ministry

Earlier, the foundation said it will clean the river and will not cause any ecological damage with Ravi Shankar calling the petition to block the event politically motivated.

"I appeal to all parties to not politicize the event. Its to unite all cultures, nations, religions & ideologies. Let’s come together," said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Sri Sri also defended the event, saying not a single tree has been cut and the ecological stability has been maintained during the preparations.

"We are asserting that we will turn the place into a beautiful bio diversity park once we are finished with it. Since 2010, our volunteers have been working hard to clean the river and around 512 tonnes of dirt and garbage has been fished out. We want to save the Yamuna. We have not cut a single tree and have maintained ecological stability. We want to see Yamuna transformed into a beauty again," the spiritual guru said.

Read: Delhi Police raises safety and security concerns over Sri Sri's event

President Pranab Mukherjee’s office has pulled out of the event which is to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will feature yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers and cultural performances.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle with agency inputs )
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