Forest, Water Ministries to NGT: We are not responsible for Yamuna damage

The two ministries were responding to the charge levelled by Ravi Shankar that the government and the NGT should be held responsible for permitting the AOL to hold the 3-day World Culture Festival.

Published: 09th May 2017 07:05 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th May 2017 07:05 PM   |  A+A-

Preparations for the World Culture Festival on the banks of the river Yamuna in New Delhi. |Shekhar Yadav/ ENS

By PTI

NEW DELHI: Two Ministries today told the National Green Tribunal that they had "no role" in permitting the cultural extravaganza of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living (AOL) that had caused damage to the Yamuna floodplains, saying the DDA was responsible for it.     

In separate submissions, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Water Resources also told the green panel that they were not responsibile for the damage to the eco-fragile floodplains, as alleged by the spiritual guru.     

The two ministries were responding to the charge levelled by Ravi Shankar that the government and the NGT should be held responsible for permitting the AOL to hold the 3-day World Culture Festival on the Yamuna river bed in March last year.     

The AOL head had also said last month his foundation had obtained all necessary permissions, including from the green panel, and the event could have been stopped in the beginning itself if river Yamuna was so fragile and pure.   

"Delhi Development Authority (DDA) granted the permission for holding the function on the floodplains. AOL conducted the whole event. We had no role to play in this and we are not liable to pay for the damages," the ministries told a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar.     

The Environment Ministry said the event did not require Environmental Clearance under the provision of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification and hence it had no role in approving the holding of the festival.     

Senior advocate Rajiv Bansal, appearing for DDA, said the permission was granted to AOL for the festival after making it clear to them that no permanent or semi-permanent construction of any kind was allowed on the riverbed.     

He said the floodplain demarcation was not done at the time when permission was granted to the AOL for the event and hence the department cannot specify clearly whether there was impact on the floodplain or not.     

"I was approached for seeking permission for the World Culture Festival which was bonafidely given. I own complete responsibility for the event. According to my interpretation, NGT has not banned any event on the floodplains by its 2015 judgement," the DDA lawyer said.     

He also vociferously opposed Ravi Shankar's statement that the authorities which had granted permission for the event should be held liable for the damage to the floodplains.     

"They (AOL) are asking us to pay for the damages. But under which provision of law and for what? DDA can't be held liable for vicarious liability (responsible for granting permission). We were unaware about the size of the whole event at the time of granting permission," he said.     

Delhi government echoed the same views and said it had "limited responsibility" in the entire matter as it had only granted no objection certificate on behalf of the Delhi Police and other law and order related issues.     

Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the petitioner and Yamuna activist Manoj Misra, said the AOL chief was guilty of "scandalising" the court and should be held liable for criminal contempt of the court.

"Once you have accepted the order of NGT and the findings of the expert panel appointed by it, they (AOL) cannot say they have not caused any damage to the environment," he said.     

Parikh also said the initial amount of Rs five crore, which AOL had deposited as environment compensation, should be used for restoration of the damaged Yamuna floodplains.     

"There is urgency in the matter because the monsoons are about to reach. The initial amount deposited should be used for rejuvenating the Yamuna riverbed without any delay before the advent of rains," Parikh said.     

The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on May 11.   

 Earlier, an expert committee had told the NGT that a whopping Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore Yamuna floodplains which was ravaged due to a cultural extravaganza organised by AOL last year. 

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