Monday, January 30, 2023

NGT relief to AOL: Can pay fine by April 4 in installments

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The National Green Tribunal agreed to extend the deadline to deposit Rs five crore fine levied on Art of Living foundation to April 4. The court, however, asked the AOL to deposit the first installment of Rs 25 lakhs today.

While extending the deadline to April 4, the NGT laid down the condition that it would seize the amount that the foundation is to receive from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in case AOL fails to deposit the remaining fine within the deadline.

Meanwhile, the NGT had cleared the decks for Art of Living to conduct their mega spiritual event: World Culture Festival on the banks of Yamuna in Delhi. The event would be held between March 11th and March 13th; and around 35 lakh people are expected to visit it.

The bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said that petitioner delayed approaching The Tribunal against this event as work had already started at the sight. In their verdict, NGT had stayed all activities on Yamuna bank, except work on World Cultural Festival; and also imposed a fine of Rs 5 crore (initially) for the ecological damage.

A committee has been formed which will monitor the event.

Earlier, NGT asked some tough questions to the council of Art of Living, and probed about the whole exercise. Art of Living informed the bench that they have already spent Rs 15.63 crore on preparation for the event; and sponsors have spent Rs 10 crore to decorate the venue.

When NGT asked the petitioner that on which grounds the event should be stopped from happening, they replied:

  • Government machinery has been misused for preparing the venue
  • Ecologically sensitive flood plain of Yamuna has been damaged
  • Unauthorized construction is in direct violation of previous Court’s verdict

Based on these reasons, the petitioner pleaded that such massive construction should be demolished without any consideration.

Earlier in the day, Ministry of Environment and Forests filed an affidavit stating that their clearance is not required for this event.

The court was concerned about inadequate measures implemented for such a large gathering. For example, the bench asked how 650 bio-toilets can be sufficient for 5 lakh+ people, who would be present at the venue at any given time?

Art Of Living also stated that liquid waste generated from the event would be managed by Delhi Jal Board as they have identified sewage area for the disposal, while solid waste management would be done by SPNL. Around 1200 dustbins have been arranged, and 1000 volunteers would be managing the crowd and directing them.

The bench had asked Art of Living to provide details pertaining to construction of stage, leveling of flood plains, removal of debris and pontoon bridge over the river.

As per the replies filed by Art of Living council, a separate space would be created for visiting dignitaries so that crowd can be managed efficiently. Besides PM Modi, around 16+ ‘VIP’ dignitaries are expected to attend the festival. President Pranab Mukherjee was expected to attend the festival, but later he cancelled his participation.

The court also directed the organizer not to put any enzyme into the river.

While fighting the case, petitioner argued that while DDA has allocated a space of 24.44 hectares, Art of Living has occupied 94 to 95 hectares.

Watch experts from APN News debate on this issue on their special program Mudda.

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