Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-Linked Body In Green Tangle Over Illegal Construction In Kolkata

The East Kolkata Wasteland sprawling over 30,000 acres on the city's east is one of the few urban wetlands in the world and acts as a natural drain for water from the city.

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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar-Linked Body In Green Tangle Over Illegal Construction In Kolkata

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An organisation linked to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been accused of illegal construction in Kolkata.

Kolkata:  They are called Kolkata's kidneys - the wetlands to the city's east, just a little smaller in size than the city itself. Without them, Kolkata would drown in rain and drain water. A range of laws protect them. Despite this, illegal construction has been taking place on the wetlands as the state flounders in tackling encroachments.

For the first time, however, say green activists, the state-run East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA) fully backed an NGO's efforts to undo damage to the Ramsar Site by an organisation linked to spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

At the end of 2015, the Vaidik Dharma Sansthan (VDS) built a three-storey building called 'Temple of Knowledge' at Mundapara, about 10 km from Gariahat in south Kolkata on a land identified as wetland. 

In May 2016, a Kolkata NGO, People United for Better Living In Calcutta (PUBLIC), went to National Green Tribunal or NGT to appeal against the violation.

VDS was found by EKWMA to have violated the East Kolkata Wetlands Act 2006 by construction on agricultural land.

On October 25, NGT ordered the wetlands on which the 'Temple of Knowledge' was built must be restored within three months.

"It was an uphill task. The government didn't file the case. We did. But the government backed us this time and that's a first," said Banani Kakkar, founder member, PUBLIC.

Dr Pradeep Kakkar, also of PUBLIC, said "We don't know if Ravi Shankar is aware of this Temple of Knowledge but Art of Living must do due diligence. At the very minimum, you must obey the local laws, for god's and god man's sake".

This is not the first time Ravi Shankar has fallen foul of green activists. In March last year, Art of Living held a 'World Culture Festival' on the flood plains of Yamuna River just outside Delhi. NGT penalized Art of Living after an expert panel found that the floodplain area used for the main event site was "completely destroyed".

But Ravi Shankar's disciples in Kolkata who built the Temple of Knowledge are unhappy with the NGT order.

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"We have been singled out. There are many constructions in the wetlands for commercial use. We are a spiritual organisation. Action has only been taken against us," said Sandip Nowlakha, a VDS member.

The East Kolkata Wasteland sprawling over 30,000 acres on the city's east is one of the few urban wetlands in the world and acts as a natural drain for water from the city. The wetlands also naturally clean drain water. It was declared a Ramsar Site in 2002. There are 26 Ramsar Sites in India.

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