Instead of accusing NGT panel on Yamuna floodplains of bias, AOL must pay | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Instead of accusing NGT panel on Yamuna floodplains of bias, AOL must pay

It is absolutely critical to ensure AOL pays up for the damage it caused to the Yamuna floodplain.

editorials Updated: Apr 13, 2017 17:58 IST
Yamuna
A large swathe of the ecologically-fragile Yamuna floodplain in east Delhi resembled a garbage-littered wasteland after the Art of Living’s three-day culture festival, March 2017(Hindustan Times)

It is often said --- correctly so --- that there are many laws in India but very little implementation. This deficit becomes all the more pronounced when it comes to environmental laws. Almost every other day, there are reports of violation of these laws even though they are critical for our future. Take, for example, the Yamuna floodplain case. It is a straightforward one: An organisation, Art of Living, flouted a 2013 National Green Tribunal (NGT) order, which banned all construction on the river’s flood plains because they affect the natural flow of the river, with the help of government agencies. However, thanks to the determined efforts of activists and citizens, a petition was filed in the NGT. Despite a strong case, the tribunal very reluctantly allowed the festival in March 2016, saying that as the matter was ‘fait accompli’ (because much of the construction had happened), and they could not ban it. But they set up a panel to look into the destruction that AOL had inflicted on the river’s floodplains while holding their mammoth three-day cultural extravaganza.

On Wednesday, a NGT-appointed expert panel, headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary, ministry of water resources, came out with its report: The damage to the Yamuna floodplains by the cultural extravaganza, the panel said, will cost more than Rs 42 crore and at least 10 years to fix. The panel has suggested a time-bound action plan, which comprises two components - physical and biological rehabilitation. The physical component is estimated to cost around Rs 28.73 crore and the biological part would cost around Rs 13.29 crore.

What is appalling is the attitude of AOL and also that of politicians: From day one, AOL has been aggressive, claiming that they have done no wrong and has now called the panel “bias[ed] beyond doubt”. The less said the better about the political class. Despite the organisation flouting the law and its government agencies facilitating this transgression, several politicians attended the meet, thereby legitimising an illegal event.

This case also shows how little politicians care about the city and ecology. On Thursday, Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra exhibited utter disregard for the ecology of the city he governs. He mocked the findings of the panel and had the audacity to say that the event should be held again and “only on its banks”. The case will come up in NGT for its final words on April 20. It is absolutely critical to ensure that AOL pays up for the damage.

For far too long, India’s strong environment protection laws have been flouted. It’s time to send out a strong message that such transgressions will not be allowed.