Art of Living event ruined Yamuna floodplains, restoration to cost Rs 42 crore: NGT
The damage to the Yamuna floodplains caused by the Art of Living’s three-day cultural festival last year will cost more than Rs 42 crore and at least 10 years to fix, according to the expert panel appointed by the National Green Tribunal.
The Foundation has, however, called the committee biased and acting with vested interests.
The expert panel, headed by Shashi Shekhar, secretary of ministry of water resources, submitted its report to the NGT on Wednesday, on damage assessment following the Art of Living’s three-day World Culture Festival in March 2016.
The panel has suggested a time-bound action plan, which comprises two components - physical and biological rehabilitation. The physical component is estimated to cost around Rs 28.73 crore and the biological part would cost around Rs 13.29 crore.
“In addition to this, there would be expenditure for the monitoring by a team of experts for 10 years and the cost of transportation of material outside the floodplain,” said an expert.
The 47-page report estimates that approximately 120 hectares (about 300 acres) of floodplains of west (right bank) of the river Yamuna and about 50 hectares (120 acres) floodplains of the eastern side (left bank) of the river have been adversely impacted ecologically at different magnitudes.
The Art of Living spokesperson, however, has alleged “bias beyond doubt.”
“The Expert Committee members of the NGT who were supposed to be non-interested parties to the case and were to act as the eyes and ears of judges have given biased interviews in public while the case is sub-judice... The closeness of the petitioner with the expert committee members was not disclosed to us when it was appointed by NGT and went into the preparation of the report,” said Kedar Desai, the spokesperson.
Desai said the Art of Living Foundation is a “responsible and environmentally sensitive NGO” and its legal team will be looking into the report to decide on the appropriate future action.
The NGT had allowed the festival in March 2016, saying that as the matter was ‘fait accompli’, they could not ban it. The three-day World Cultural Festival soon grabbed headlines for allegedly polluting and damaging the Yamuna floodplain ecosystem.
The NGT slapped an interim fine Rs 5 crore on the Foundation for environmental damage while efforts were made to ascertain the exact costs of the damage.
An initial four-member committee had recommended that the Foundation pay Rs100 to Rs 120 crores as compensation for the restoration work.
The green court had later asked an expert panel of seven members to estimate the damage to the floodplains and how much it would cost to fix these damages. This committee observed that the festival had ‘completely destroyed, not simply damaged’ the riverfront area between DND flyover and the Barapulla drain, which had served as the main event site.
“The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation.
“Huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps for access from the DND flyover and from the two pontoon bridges across the Barapulla drain,” the report said.
It said the floodplain was severely harmed and “almost all its natural vegetation” was lost, affecting the natural habitat of a large number animals, insects and other organisms.