It is an irony that for selfish gains a malicious plot was hatched to malign an organisation, which is working for environment around the globe.
Recently, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar told a television news channel that he is going to get back the Rs 5 crore environmental compensation, which was deposited by the Art of Living towards organising the World Culture Festival (WCF) on the banks of Yamuna in March 2016.
The statement was purely based on publicly available scientific and technical data, whether brought before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or not.
Long before the WCF was held, Delhi Tourism, Noida Toll Bridge and Dubai-based E4 Entertainment had organised a month-long Times Global Village at the same venue in 2007.
The event site was under agricultural use since time immemorial and immediately before the WCF was organised, the presence of natural vegetation was limited to some weed and a few trees. Because the vegetation was already there, Art of Living did not level the ground. Pictures (Annexure 1 & 2) from December 2015 just before Art of Living started work there prove the same.
One can see in these images, the maize was just harvested and the land was totally dusty and flat. Just one patch was still being cultivated as a farmer did not agree to vacate the agricultural land. So the event was held around his piece of land.
Roads already existed around the event venue so Art of Living could not have done any compaction. The roads, agricultural activity and trees in existence before and after WCF can be counted and viewed in satellite images of dates before and after the WCF. Sample Google Earth image (Annexure 3) from 2 April 2013 proves the same.
Huge amounts of debris was already present at the event site: Para 25 in NGT order dated 13 January, 2015 in Manoj Misra Vs Union of India and Ors (i.e. more than one year before the WCF event happened) records that 53,000 cu. m. of debris including construction materials were lying on the western banks of Yamuna near Nizamuddin bridge and Batla House i.e. around the same site where WCF was held.
One also fails to understand how an event confined within a well-defined land parcel of approximately 25 hectares caused loss of all natural vegetation over the entire floodplain of Yamuna.
In the ongoing case, experts who were supposed to be non-interested parties to the case and were to act as the eyes and ears of judges have given interviews in public. One NGT expert committee member, Prof C R Babu, has been canvassing for Manoj Misra, the petitioner, in the ongoing case, before the media. In a media interview, he maligned the Art of Living, concluding that WCF had caused damage even before any assessment was done. This clearly shows his bias.
Yet another NGT expert committee member, Prof Brij Gopal, has close connections with the petitioner, Manoj Misra. In the last few years, he has conducted joint investigations into another project with the petitioner, travelled and worked with him on other projects. These facts were not disclosed when the committee was appointed by NGT and went into the preparation of the report.
NGT expert committee also suffered from self-selection bias. They suggested their own names in a report written by themselves. Extract from NGT expert committee report dated 28 July 2016 proves the same:
“Supervision for restoration, management and maintenance of the restored flood plains... The Chairman of the Principal Committee and three expert members, viz, Prof Gosain, Prof C R Babu and Prof Brij Gopal can undertake the responsibility.”
Art of Living’s reputation in organising the World Culture Festival 2011 held at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany and it’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations 2006 held at Jakkur Airfield, Bangalore, India, attended by millions of people from all walks of life, is what made the present government welcome this event with great enthusiasm. The Art of Living did not use any other influence but it’s good reputation globally to organise this event.
According to government figures during the WCF, there was a:
- 12.1 per cent growth in foreign tourist arrivals in March 2016 over the same period in 2015
- 347.5 per cent growth in tourists arrival on e-tourist visa in March 2016 over the same period in 2015
- $42 million forex was earned during the WCF
All permissions for the WCF were taken before the start of the event, including those of Central Public Works Department, Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Fire Service, Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Police, Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Delhi Traffic Police, Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, District Disaster Management Authority, East Delhi Municipal Corporation, Indian Army, Irrigation Department, Uttar Pradesh Government, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, Public Works Department - Delhi, Public Works Department - Uttar Pradesh and South Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Scientific committee, which advised Art of Living for the event:
- Dr Rakesh Ranjan, Chartered Environmentalist, International Consultant for Environmental Planning
- Dr Prabhakar Rao, B, MSc (Ag), PhD, UAS, L Arch, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA, International Consultant for Environmental Planning
- Dr Lingaraju Yale, Geohydrologist, former Director with Karnataka State Remote Sensing Application Centre and Geomatics Centre, WRDO, Government of Karnataka
- Dr Anish Dua, Professor, Aquatic Biology, Fish and Fisheries, River and Wetlands Conservation, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab
- Dr Dipanjan Basu, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo
- Ruchi Jain, Environmentalist with MSc Environment Change and Management from University of Oxford Boardman’s Scholar
Some sections of the media also tried their best to target the Art of Living. Despite casting a microscopic eye, they could not find any fault, exposing their allegations to be hollow and frivolous. In fact, NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar frustratingly remarked many times in court that the Rs 5 crore deposit is a ‘compensation’ and not a ‘fine’ as recorded in Manoj Misra Vs Delhi Development Authority & Ors in para 7 of NGT order dated 9 March, 2016 but some in media refuse to listen and still continue to call it a ‘fine’.
The NGT also had an apprehension as to how a huge seven-acre stage of 60-feet height can stand without a foundation. Art of Living lawyers convinced them with photographs that it was standing on a plain and was indeed a floating stage as there was no digging done for foundation work. The stage was totally an innovative idea and not even a feet was dug on the plains. This in itself was a never heard before architectural marvel. It takes time for people to understand highly innovative ideas which at first appear to be unbelievable.
It is an irony that for selfish gains a malicious plot was hatched to malign an organisation which is working for environment around the globe. Surely, justice shall prevail, the case will be decided on merit, and the Rs 5 crore environmental compensation that the Art of Living was forced to deposit on the basis of concocted information will be refunded soon.