Kolkata: The Art of Living, headed by Sri Sri Ravishankar, has challenged the report of an environmental panel which had accused it of doing extensive damage to the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi during its three-day cultural extravaganza last year. The organisation had been fined Rs 5 crore on the basis of the report, which said it would take a decade's work and an expense of Rs 42 crore to undo the damage.
Today, the Art of Living told the National Green Tribunal - the nation's highest green court - that the committee's report suffers from lack of facts. "The committee report is bad in law as it has exceeded the brief of the NGT also... if at all, the jurisdiction has to be to restoration not rehabilitation," the organisation also told the court.
The green court has already rebuked Delhi's lead planning body, the Delhi Development Authority, which took the same line and questioned the expert group's findings earlier this month.
"It is not fair. You cannot make sweeping comments on people who have devoted their life to environment," a bench of the green tribunal headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar told the planning body today. "We are warning you people that if anybody passes strictures, we will not hesitate to take action against them," the court had added.
The AoL's challenge came a month after its chief, Sri Sri Ravishankar, had told NDTV that the experts have been unable to prove what the damage to Yamuna flood plains was. "They said we made it (the Yamuna) dirty. I said, 'Tell me where'. We didn't pollute the water. The water was already so polluted you couldn't go anywhere near it," he had said.
The expert committee, set up by the Green Court, had suggested that the AoL be fined Rs 42 crore.
The environmentalists had initially asked that the World Culture Festival -- which included a 7-acre stage for 35,000 musicians and dancers, newly built dirt tracks and 650 portable toilets across 1,000 acres -- be disallowed. But the court said it was too late to call it off.
The Art of Living has claimed that it had been a victim of a "conspiracy". "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," the organisation said.