Art of Living (AOL) founder Ravi Shankar is a gutsy man.
On Thursday, Mr Shankar said he will go to jail but not pay the Rs 5-crore penalty imposed on AoL by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for holding the World Cultural Festival (WCF) on the ecologically fragile Yamuna floodplain in Delhi.
Mr Shankar could say so because he has — as we mentioned in an earlier editorial — adequate political backing, which also ensured administrative approvals for AOL’s ‘Olympic cultural festival’ without much fuss. The NGT on Thursday gave AOL 24 hours more to pay up.
But here’s the catch: The extra day happens to be the inaugural day of the three-day festival, which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will also be attended by other leaders of political parties, giving the event legitimacy at the cost of the environment even though two massive floods (Kashmir and Chennai) showed what happens if environmental norms are flouted like this.
Though AOL has the NGT’s green signal for the WCF, government agencies (Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Pollution Control Board) should realise that the clearance has not absolved them of criminal negligence of their duties.
The NGT did not accept the DPCC’s plea that it was not obligatory upon it to grant and/or refuse the consent and pulled up the DDA for giving a ‘vague permission’ and told it not to give any permission in relation to the floodplain. The MoEF, the mother ship of all things green, failed to present an affidavit to the NGT to show why the programme did not require environmental clearance. This is shameful.
What does all this say about India’s environmental governance agencies? They are ready to crawl when asked to bend. It is also rich of AOL to say that the organisation will turn the area into a biodiversity park, considering that they did not think twice before damaging an eco-sensitive area.
Mr Shankar said that they are pro-ecology because they cleaned up the area. That his understanding of the issue is rudimentary is proved by this.
Moreover, who will keep an eye on AOL’s promise? The same government departments that failed to carry out their basic duties in the first place? This is asking for too much from a supine bureaucracy.