Art of Living founder Ravi Shankar said on Thursday that he will not pay a Rs 5-crore penalty for organising a cultural event on the Yamuna floodplain in Delhi.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has cleared the World Culture Festival despite fears of damage to the ecosystem, but said the foundation will have to pay the fine.
“We have not done anything wrong...we will go to jail but not pay a penny,” the 59-year-old spiritual leader told NDTV.
“This is like a cultural Olympics...normally, something like this should be welcomed,” he said, just hours before a hearing in India’s top green court at 4pm.
The green court has asked the Art of Living to give an undertaking by Thursday that bioenzymes will not be released into the Yamuna.
The three-day festival begins March 11, and 2-3 lakh people are expected.
The Art of Living Foundation has said it will spend Rs 25.63 crore, of which Rs 15.63 crore was for stage, marquees and other constructions, and the remaining Rs 10 crore for decoration and lighting.
Shankar, who has a worldwide following, denied that the army’s move to construct bridges for the event was an apparent signal of his proximity to the government.
“If lakhs of people are coming, how can you consider this a private event? If this were the Kumbh Mela, wouldn’t the army be used to help?” Shankar said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will likely attend the event. President Pranab Mukherjee, however, has opted out.
The BJP has defended the programme in the face of uproar in Parliament. Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), too, has extended support, underscoring what many see as Shankar’s clout with political parties.
The Art of Living has said the event will not cause any damage, with Shankar calling a petition to block the event politically motivated.
He said the green court’s verdict was unsatisfactory and the foundation will challenge it.
“We appreciate all those who came in support of World Culture Festival. The festival will go as per planned and since we have not violated any rules we will appeal against the NGT order,” the foundation said.
But organisers have admitted they did not get permissions from the city fire service, police and the transport department for parking vehicles at a bus depot.