Clout matters. This is the main message that emerges from the ongoing case involving the Art of Living’s (AOL’s) World Culture Festival and those opposing the misuse of the Yamuna floodplains for the event.
If you have the right connections, the State will not only give green clearances but also help in kind. For example, the Indian Army, which has no connection with such functions, is building pontoon bridges for the programme after the Delhi Police officials felt a huge turnout could lead to a stampede.
Criticising the State’s excessive interest in the three-day event, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday questioned the respondents ---- the Centre and the Delhi government ---- whether they have considered the event’s impact on the environment and the river’s biodiversity before agreeing to such a massive programme on its floodplains.
It also said that AOL has exceeded the permission granted by the Delhi Development Authority for the festival. On February 29, a panel appointed by NGT recommended a fine of Rs 120 crore on AOL for damaging the floodplains.
There are several reasons why NGT finds these developments alarming: The event has no police or fire safety clearance; the organiser has removed small water bodies and natural vegetation, and has flattened 60 acres of land; dumped construction debris on the roads, developed parking areas and constructed makeshift toilets.
They have also built an enormous stage (1,200 feet long x 200 feet wide x 40 feet high) on the floodplains. The AOL lawyers told the tribunal that the buses ferrying people to the festival will be parked at the government’s Millennium Bus Depot, but the transport department hasn’t given them permission yet.
Activists argued that preparations for the event forced birds to migrate from the area. The floodplains have been flattened, destroying birds’ nesting sites and choking the polluted Yamuna with construction debris, they added.
The AOL, however, maintains that it is an eco-friendly programme and it will not damage the floodplains and that in any other country, such a programme will get Olympic Games-like billing. We think not. In countries where laws are implemented in letter and spirit such events will fail to get the necessary clearances.
The AOL, led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, must realise that no organisation/individual is above the law and that there are enough reasons for the courts and the people to raise questions on this mega event and he should accept that his choice of venue was wrong.
The Tribunal will give its final verdict today. If the case is strong enough against AOL, the Tribunal should order a stay on the event. 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.