Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
New Delhi, April 20: India's apex environmental tribunal today slammed Art of Living Foundation (AOL) founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has said the government should be held responsible for the damage to the Yamuna floodplains after the foundation's cultural festival there last year.
"You have no sense of responsibility. Who gave you the liberty to speak whatever you want to? It is shocking," a National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench headed by chairperson Swatanter Kumar said during follow-up hearings of a petition challenging the AOL's choice of the site.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for petitioner Manoj Mishra, a former forest officer, informed the bench about Ravi Shankar's statement on Tuesday in which he appeared to blame the central and state governments and even the NGT itself for the site of the festival.
An expert panel has told the NGT that the efforts to mend the ecological damage caused by the cultural festival held from March 11 to 13 last year would cost about Rs 42 crore and take 10 years. The panel has said the festival had led to changes in topography, habitat diversity, loss of water bodies and flood plain vegetation.
Ravi Shankar had said in his statement that the AOL had "obtained all the necessary permissions, including the NGT's. The application was pending before the NGT for two months before the event. They could have stopped the event in the beginning if they wanted to."
"It defies principles of natural justice that you give permissions and slap a fine for not violating any rules," he added. "This is like giving a challan to someone on a green signal. If at all any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the central and state governments and the NGT itself for giving the permission."
"If the Yamuna was so fertile, fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival at the very beginning," Ravi Shankar said. "A historic programme deserving of applause and appreciation is unjustly projected as a crime.... The world over, cultural programmes are held on riverbanks," he claimed.
The festival that featured cultural events and musicians from different countries had been inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had received congratulatory messages from President Pranab Mukherjee, then Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, and several global leaders.
Petitioner Mishra said the entire stretch of the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi, including the site of the festival, had been under a prohibitory order from the NGT since January 2015.
"The floodplain should have been off limits for the event," he said. "The event was allowed by the NGT only after the Art of Living Foundation gave an assurance through an undertaking that it would abide by the NGT's ruling."
The next hearing of the petition has been scheduled for May 9.
A seven-member expert panel asked by the NGT to examine the site has submitted a report that estimates that physical rehabilitation at the site will cost about Rs 28.7 crore and biological rehabilitation an additional Rs 13.3 crore.
Ravi Shankar had in his statement claimed that the festival was intended to save the river.
"The whole idea was to bring awareness to save the river," he said in his Tuesday statement. "The Art of Living that has rejuvenated 27 rivers, planted 71 million trees, and revived several ponds is being projected for destroying a dead river. What a joke."