- Sri Sri's foundation held 3-day cultural festival last year
- 1,000 acres of Yamuna floodplains used to host event
- Riverbed "completely destroyed" say experts to court
The expert committee provided its assessment to the National Green Tribunal today, provoking a sharp response from the Art of Living Foundation, which is headed by Sri Sri. "We have been victims of a conspiracy. And we will fight for the truth to come out," it said, stressing, like its founder, that "We have never caused any damage to the environment but have in fact worked for preserving and reviving it through various environment-related projects over the years."
Environmentalists last year asked for the "World Culture Festival" to be disallowed, but the court said it was too late to call off the event and fined the organization five crores.
Initially, a four-member committee had recommended that Sri Sri's foundation should be fined Rs 100-120 crore as restoration cost for "extensive and severe damage". Another team of seven experts said that the event, which included a 7-acre stage for 35,000 musicians and dancers, newly built dirt tracks and 650 portable toilets across 1,000 acres had "completely destroyed" the riverbed.
Despite the controversy, which saw President Pranab Mukherjee cancelling his appearance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the opening of the festival. Sri Sri, 59, rejected criticism from environmentalists, stating that he should be rewarded for organising the event alongside one of the world's most polluted rivers.