NGT directs Art of Living to pay Rs. 4.75 crore within a week; rejects plea to submit a bank guarantee in lieu thereof

NGT directs Art of Living to pay Rs. 4.75 crore within a week; rejects plea to submit a bank guarantee in lieu thereof

The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday rejected the plea filed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation and directed it to pay Rs. 4.75 crores as fine for the ‘World Culture Festival’ held on the banks of river Yamuna.

The NGT Bench led by Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar refused to accept the Foundation’s plea that the money they owed be treated as a Bank Guarantee and that it should be applied towards establishment of a biodiversity park. The Bench further slapped a fine of Rs. 5,000 on the foundation, for filing an application which lacks bona fide. It was directed to submit within a week, the remainder of the costs imposed on it for damaging Yamuna’s biodiversity.

During the hearing, the Bench rapped the organization for its failure to deposit the amount, despite the assurance tendered to the Tribunal. “We have noticed that the conduct of the Foundation is certainly not worthy of any appreciation. Today furnishing of a Bank Guarantee is subject to deposit of money, if the Foundation can deposit the amount with the banks, then why not with the concerned authorities as directed, vide order dated March 9, 2016,” it was quoted as saying.

The Tribunal further suggested that the NGO may use the Union Culture Ministry’s grant to pay the balance compensation. The Ministry had granted it Rs. 2.5 crore for the World Cultural Festival.

Meanwhile, the Organization had filed an application alleging bias by the panel of experts set up by the Tribunal to examine the Yamuna floodplains where the foundation had leveled sections of land, built a temporary structure, borrowed strips of farmland and built pontoon bridges ahead of its weekend of cultural festivities. It was however rapped for the allegations, with the Bench observing, “We had asked (an) expert committee to visit your site... now, you have moved an application alleging bias. You cannot make allegations and accusations against everybody and anybody.”

The Tribunal agreed to add two more members to the Committee, on the condition that the organization’s application be withdrawn. This condition was not accepted by AOL, which has decided to challenge the inspection and constitution of the committee. The expert committee, comprising C.R. Babu, A.K. Gosain and Brij Gopal, is scheduled to submit its report in a sealed cover to the Tribunal before July 4.

The Tribunal had, in March this year, given a green signal to the three day cultural festival, on the condition that the Foundation paid Rs. 5 crore as fine for damaging the biodiversity of the fertile Yamuna flood plain. The organization had then petitioned NGT seeking four weeks time for depositing the amount. It was thereafter directed to deposit Rs. 25 lakh on the same day and granted three weeks time to pay the balance amount. The event had witnessed artists, musicians and dancers from across the globe.