NEW DELHI: The stage is now set for the controversial three-day cultural event opening tomorrow on the Yamuna flood plains even as Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar struck a defiant note that he will not pay Rs 5 crore fine imposed by Green Tribunal and would rather go to jail.
Environmental activist Manoj Mishra, who has petitioned the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for a ban on the event, today again approached it complaining that AOL has not taken permissions from agencies like police, fire and CPWD and that the Ravi Shankar has said he would not pay the fine.
The NGT bench, headed by chairperson Swatanter Kumar, said that AOL has time to pay the fine till tomorrow and law will take its course if it fails to do so.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the 'World Culture Festival' that plans to bring together people of talent, eminence and repute in which 3.5 million people are expected to participate.
In the wake of controversies triggered by concerns over environmental violations, President Pranab Mukherjee pulled out of the valedictory function on Saturday and there was no official word on whether Modi will participate.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who was one of the invitees, has also pulled out of the event.
Yesterday, the NGT expressed helplessness in banning the event after activists petitioned the tribunal seeking a prohibition of the event on the ground that there was large scale violations of environmental norms on account of the event.
However, it imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore on AOL as environmental compensation and asked the organisation to deposit the amount with the Delhi Development Authority today.
It found several environmental violations by the organisers of the event. A last ditch attempt by an NGO to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop the event also failed with the petitioner asked to go to the NGT with his plea.
A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur asked the petitioner Bhartiya Kishan Majdoor Samiti to approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with its plea as the three-day event is all set to begin tomorrow.
"This preparation is going on for a long time. Why have you come now? Why don't you go to the NGT," the bench said.
The bench also asked the petitioner why he was coming with the petition at the the eleventh hour. "So you seek publicity out of it," it observed.
On his part, Ravi Shankar said he would rather go to jail than paying the fine on his organisation.
"We have not done anything wrong. We have been taintless and will remain so. We we will go to jail but not pay a penny," he said.
When pressed further whether he would defy rules, Ravi Shankar said "I will abide by rules but I have done nothing wrong."
The AOL chief said he was not "satisfied" with the verdict of the NGT and would appeal against it. He urged political parties not to "politicise" the event.
He also denied that any tree at the venue was felled and claimed that the trees had only been pruned and all they had done was level the floodplain.
"Not a single tree was felled. Trees were only pruned and we levelled the floodplain," he said.
Ravi Shankar also expressed confidence that Modi will attend the festival and claimed that people opposing it would "soon see sense".
"This is like a Cultural Olympics. 37,000 artistes from all over the world would come together at one single platform. This is an event to bring people closer to each other. Event of this magnitude should be welcomed," he said.
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said Government has not extended any financial support for the event but Rs 2.25 crore was given to Art of Living Foundation as part of "routine" grant to organisations promoting art and culture.
"Culture Ministry has not given any money for organising this function... Even the Art of Living Foundation never asked for money from the government for organising this particular event," Sharma told PTI.
He said it is "routine process" wherein "the Ministry provides funds to organisations with national presence and working in the field of promoting culture, folk dances and art and craft".