Forget who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong and revive the floodplain
Much water has flowed down the Yamuna in the Art of Living Foundation (AOL) case, and much more will flow in the days to come. Holding AOL responsible for damaging the river’s floodplains during its World Culture Festival in 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) last week said that the Rs 5-crore fine, which was paid up by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar led foundation last year, would be used for restoration of the floodplains and that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) would be responsible for the project. The DDA will also further assess and submit a final compensation amount. There is good chance that the costs for restoration of the floodplains could be higher because an assessment by a committee in April said it could take as much as Rs 13.29 crore to restore the floodplains and it could take up to 10 years to do so because the floodplains had lost “almost all its natural vegetation”. The foundation, which has been consistently denying any culpability, has said it will approach the Supreme Court on the issue.
It must. AOL is entitled and allowed to appeal. This was a large function conducted in a sensitive and, the argument goes, already degraded, ecosystem. It was organised by AOL, endorsed by politicians across the spectrum (including arch rivals Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal), and facilitated by DDA which gave permission for the event (and also the location). Just who is to blame or not to blame is a question for the courts. What is inarguable, however, is the the Yamuna floodplains need to be revived, and that AOL’s statements about the state in which it found the floodplains doesn’t really reflect a sophisticated understanding of the nature of such ecosystems.
DDA has a floodplain revival plan, which includes beautification, afforestation, development of wetland and ecological restoration. The need of the hour is to make sure this the right plan, and if it is, to implement it. The expert panel, which the NGT had set up to oversee the implementation of the plan, must ensure both.
At one level, the case is about right and wrong, like all cases are. At another, it is also about providing succor to the victim, in this case, the riverine ecosystem of one of India’s great rivers. The first shouldn’t come in the way of the second.