The Art of Living Foundation might have to fork out Rs 120 crore as “penalty” for the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains in the run-up to its March 11-13 event expected to be attended by three-and-a-half million devotees.
A National Green Tribunal (NGT) panel has estimated Rs 100-120 crore as the cost of restoration of the western side of the floodplains after examining the extent of damage, and recommended that the amount be collected before the event.
“The committee is of a strong view that the organisers i.e. the Art of Living Foundation should be responsible for funding the restoration plan as a penalty. The committee in its rough estimation feels that the total cost of restoration of the floodplains on the western side of the river alone, as proposed by the principal committee, will now be of the order of Rs 100-120 crore,” the four-member panel said as part of its recommendations to the tribunal.
The panel — headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary of the water resources ministry, and comprising CR Babu of the environment and forests ministry, Prof AK Gosain of IIT-Delhi and Prof Brij Gopal of Jaipur — gave its report, viewed by HT, after visiting the site of the foundation’s World Culture Festival.
The amount recommended to be collected from the foundation headed by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar would be used for ecological restoration as, according to experts, “huge quantity of debris is to be removed, the site de-compacted, natural topography and contours restored, temporary roads removed, natural vegetation re-planted and so on”.
The panel said restoration should be completed within a year from the end of the festival. An NGT bench headed by chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar will start its daily hearing in this case from Tuesday.
An HT team that visited the site witnessed how the venue was coming up bit by bit, with huge machines having cleared over 1,000 acres where tents, hutments, pontoon bridges stood. An enormous seven-acre stage will be built on the floodplains.
The tribunal, which is seized of the matter, in a detailed judgment last year expressly prohibited all construction activity on the floodplains as that could pose a grave danger to the river ecology. The tribunal had asked its principal committee to identify structures on the floodplains that needed to be demolished.
The Art of Living Foundation has said it is taking all requisite measures to maintain the ecological balance of the Yamuna riverbank.
“Prior to beginning work on the site, we cleared nearly 20-25 acres of the area which was earlier covered with construction debris. The World Culture Festival venue is at a safe distance from the riverbank and we have set in place systems to ensure it remains clean after the event is over,” a foundation spokesperson said.