National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the Art of Living Foundation to deposit Rs 25 lakh on Friday and the remaining Rs 4.75 crore in three weeks. If the foundation fails to cough up the Rs 25 lakh by Friday evening, the green tribunal threatened to freeze the Rs 2.5 crore grant given by the Ministry of Culture.
The next hearing has been scheduled for 4 April.
The NGT on Friday agreed to hear a fresh petition to stop Art of Living’s World Culture Festival, after environmentalists stressed that the organisers had yet to pay the Rs 5 crore fine. The NGT had said that the fine must be paid before the festival is inaugurated.
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During the hearing, the green tribunal asked the Art of Living counsel it made a statement that the organisation will not pay the fune and would rather go to jail. “Such a statement is not expected from a person of high stature like that of AOL founder,” it added.
NGT then went on to ask Art of Living, ‘how much money can you deposit today? It’s not a penalty but environment compensation. The counsel of Art of Living said the foundation can deposit Rs 25 lakh on and the balance amount within 3 weeks.
NGT had imposed an initial fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL as environmental compensation after coming down on it heavily for not disclosing its full plans and also on the DDA and Environment Ministry for their role.
On Thursday, Environment activist Manoj Mishra, who had petitioned the NGT for a ban on the event, approached the Tribunal complaining that Art of Living has not yet obtained clearances from the police, fire department and CPWD.
The “World Culture Festival”, organised by spiritual guru Ravi Shankar, spreads across 1,000 acres on the banks of the Yamuna. It features a 7-acre stage for 35,000 musicians and dancers, newly built dirt tracks and 650 portable toilets.
Environmental groups accuse organisers of ripping up vegetation and ruining the river’s fragile ecosystem by damaging its bed and disrupting water flows. They want authorities to cancel the event and avert further harm.
Shankar had said that his organisation would not pay the fine. “We have not done anything wrong...we will go to jail but not pay a penny,” he told NDTV. “This is like a cultural Olympics...normally, something like this should be welcomed,” he said.
Art of Living had asked that the fine levied upon them by the NGT should be considered as a “restoration amount” for a biodiversity park, and not as a penalty.
Mishra in a fresh petition on Friday had asked the NGT to cancel the event if Art of Living did not pay the fine by 5PM.