New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ruled that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation (AOL) must pay Rs 4.75 crore as fine for the World Culture festival held on the banks of the river Yamuna, rejecting its appeal that the money they owed be treated as a bank guarantee and that it should apply towards creating a biodiversity park.
The green panel also slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 on AOL for filing such application which "lacks bonafide" and directed it to pay the remainder amount in one week.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar rapped the AOL foundation for not depositing the amount despite assurance granted to the tribunal.
The AOL, in its application had stated that it is in the process of preparing a proposal laying down parameters/methodology for collection of scientific data/evidence regarding assessment of actual environmental damage, if any, and hopes to persuade NGT that, "damage, if any, is neither permanent nor irreversible but in fact remediable".
The NGT stated that the AOL Foundation lacks bonafide as it did not live up on its commitment to pay the fine. The tribunal said the AOL has been engaging in multiple litigations in order to not pay the fine.
The Art of Living had been allowed to go ahead with the three-day "World Culture Festival" on the banks of the river Yamuna on the condition that it would pay a Rs 5 crore penalty for damage to the area's delicate ecosystem. The organisation paid Rs 25 lakhs initially and promised to pay the remainder later.
”The Art of Living used the order of the court to hold the event and then went back on its commitment," the National Green Tribunal said on Tuesday, adding that the organisers have tried multiple legal cases "in order not to pay the fine" as a result of which the "conduct of the foundation has been called into question."
The World Culture Festival had been held on the Yamuna floodplains from March 11 to 13. It was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi though president Pranab Mukherjee dropped out after the controversy erupted.
The festival first came under the scanner of National Green Tribunal after a set of petitions were filed demanding its cancellation over concerns of potential permanent damage to the riverbed.
Environmentalists had accused organisers of ‘ripping up vegetation and ruining the river's fragile ecosystem’ by damaging its bed and disrupting water flows.
Responding to the order, the Art of Living Foundation said that it might consider approaching the Supreme Court. They claimed that ‘we left the site in better condition than we found it’.
On March 9, the NGT had refused to prohibit the World Culture Festival on the bank of Yamuna, but slapped a fine of Rs. 5 crore on the foundation for damaging biodiversity of the ecologically sensitive Yamuna floodplains.
On May 10, the foundation had issued a clarification over a NGT notice to its founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for his alleged remarks against the green panel, saying the allegations against the spiritual leader were 'completely false' and based merely on 'newspaper reports'.
The NGT issued a notice to Ravi Shankar for his alleged remarks, that the fine imposed by the green panel for organising an event on banks of river Yamuna was politically motivated.
The NGT had asked why should not contempt of court proceedings be initiated against him and has directed Ravi Shankar to file a reply to it latest by May 25....