NGT panel to visit Yamuna floodplains, assess damage caused by AoL event

  • Ritam Halder and Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 15, 2016 10:28 IST
A panel from the National Green Tribunal will visit the Yamuna floodplains to assess the damage the Art of Living festival caused. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

A panel of experts from the National Green Tribunal will visit the Yamuna floodplains this week to assess the damage the Art of Living’s three-day festival caused to the eco-sensitive zone.

The World Culture Festival that concluded on Sunday had sparked fears of damage to floodplains that acts a natural groundwater recharge system and a flood barrier.

The green court will use the panel’s recommendations to measure the amount of additional fine to be imposed on Art of Living. The NGT had fined the organisation R5 crore as the initial environment compensation.

The Delhi Development Authority, the owner of the land, will plan how to remove debris after the NGT panel submits its report.

“Once the site is handed over to us and the Principal Committee submits its report, we will chalk out a plan for the future. If there is debris, we will remove it. We want to reiterate that debris was not there when we handed over the site to the organisers,” said a senior DDA official.

Read | Art of Living? Seeking joy on the banks of a river we’ve killed

But the DDA could not explain to the tribunal who dumped the debris on the floodplain despite security and quick response team to stop dumping.

An estimated 3.5 million people were said to have visited the festival, prompting green groups to claim the event will damage the Yamuna’s fragile ecosystem. (Raj K Raj/ HT Photo)

The authority is yet to install CCTV cameras to monitor the floodplain and check dumping of garbage.

The role of the Delhi government will be scrutinised if it failed to protect the floodplain. On Sunday, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had asked AOL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to help bring together the state and the Centre together to clean the Yamuna.

Delhi Jal Board is the main agency responsible for cleaning the river.

“Thousands of crores are needed to construct sewage treatment plants to ensure no muck is dumped in the river. The Centre has to chip in with funds,” a senior Delhi government official said.

The trail of trash on the Yamuna floodplain is not the lone problem, though.

The floodplain with porous sand forming its top layer was covered with mud and flattened by road rollers over several days before the festival began on Friday. Clay and compacted mud do not allow water to seep in, which is essential to replenish groundwater.

Read | AoL event: Big cleanup begins after 3 days of culture festival

Puddles from sporadic rains over the past couple of days confirmed environmentalists’ worst fears about how tinkering with the floodplain’s top soil will diminish its water absorption capacity.

The Art of Living (AoL) representatives, however, denied giving the floodplain a mud pack.

The Delhi high court called the World Cultural Festival an “ecological disaster” but did not ban it. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

“We only levelled debris lying on the floodplain. We had to level the ground to put chairs and carpets,” AoL counsel Saraswati Akshama Nath said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union ministers, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet members were present at the event attended by thousands of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar supporters.

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