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NGT clears deck for World Cultural Festival,slaps Rs 5 Cr fine

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Notwithstanding raging controversies, decks were today cleared for the three-day cultural extravaganza of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living on the Yamuna flood plains with the National Green Tribunal expressing its helplessness in banning the event because of "fait accompli".

Nevertheless, it imposed a fine of Rs five crores fine on AOL as environmental compensation after coming down heavily on the foundation for not disclosing its full plans and also on the DDA and Environment Ministry for their role.

Late in the night, the AOL announced that it will appeal against the NGT order. Any challenge to the NGT order usually lies with the Supreme Court.

The green tribunal which found several environmental violations committed by the organisers blamed the delay on the part of environmental activists in raising the issue before it which compelled it to grant permission for the event.

As activists raked up the question of serious environmental violations on account of the event in which about 35 lakh people are expected to participate, President Pranab Mukherjee has already pulled out of the valedictory function on Sunday in which he was to speak.

There was still speculation whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will open it on Friday. He is yet to take a decision whether to attend the inaugural function, official sources said.

The government also came under attack from opposition in the Rajya Sabha for allowing the event and deploying army for construction of pontoon bridges in the area.

But government rejected criticism saying Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was committed to environment protection and the issue cannot be discussed in the House when it is being considered by a tribunal.

"For the reason of delay and laches on the part of the applicant in approaching the Tribunal and for the reason of fait accompli capable of restoration and restitution, we are unable to grant prayer of prohibitory order and a mandatory direction for removal of construction and restoration of the area in question to the applicant at this stage," a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar said.

The NGT clearance came on a day the Delhi High Court described the event, from whose valedictory function the President has already pulled out, as a "disaster" from the ecological point of view.

The tribunal said that as per documents placed on record it is evident that flood plains have been drastically tampered with and ramps, roads, compaction of earth, pontoon bridges and other semi-permanent or temporary structures were constructed without the requisite permission of the concerned authorities including Ministry of Water Resources.

"For the damage caused to the environment, ecology, biodiversity and aquatic life of the river, the Foundation should be held liable for its restoration in all respects. In that regard and in exercise of our powers under Sections 15 and 17 of the NGT Act, 2010, we impose an Environmental Compensation, initially of Rs 5 crores," the green panel said.

The bench said this amount would be paid by AOL prior to commencement of the event and would be adjusted towards final compensation determined to be paid by it for restoration work.

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First Published: Wed, March 09 2016. 21:03 IST