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Art of Living in fresh trouble

Art of Living in fresh trouble
Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Photo:
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The NGT has ordered the demolition of a Ravi Shankar temple in Kolkata that violated environment norms

~By Sujit Bhar and Nilanjana Mukherjee

The exalted position of religious guru and godman Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living (AoL) suffered a major blow in the wetlands of East Kolkata recently. On October 25, the Eastern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), comprising Justice SP Wangdi and Prof PC Mishra, directed the East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority (EKWMA) to demolish a three-storey building called the Temple of Knowledge, owned by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Trust. The EKWMA is a statutory body under the West Bengal government’s Department of Environment, engaged in the protection of wetlands.

The bench made it clear that the demolition was ordered because the protected East Kolkata Wetland had been encroached upon. Kedar Desai, spokesperson for the Trust, told India Legal over the phone that they have all the necessary documentation and will appeal to a higher court.

Said Desai: “The land for the temple was donated to us in 2013 by a private party, a disciple of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We then obtained all the relevant building clearances.”

When asked who gave the building clearances, Desai said he was not sure, “possibly the panchayat”, because the area is not within the jurisdiction of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The AoL organisation has shown great surprise at this order. The building which was ordered to be demolished belongs to the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Vaidic Dharma Sansthan (VDS).

This is not the only key structure to be demolished. The court has asked the EKWMA “to demolish all the illegal structures” and also “to impose appropriate penalty” for the unauthorised encroachment.

Around 12,500 hectares of wetland in Kolkata are included in the Ramsar list of “Wetlands of International Importance” and are under immediate threat due to the expanding urbanisation. The order was on the basis of a petition filed in May 2016 by Kolkata NGO Public United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC).

Last year, the EKWMA had filed an FIR against VDS for the illegal construction of the Temple of Knowledge, that was encroaching upon the wetlands. The charge was that the VDS had completely violated the East Kolkata Wetland (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006. VDS was served a showcause notice in August 2015, followed by a second notice in September 2015 to immediately stop the construction. However, VDS did not pay any heed to the notice and carried on the construction work.

Desai said: “Though it has not been finalised, we will obviously challenge the order and approach a higher court. That will be our next course of action.”

The “temple” has been an eyesore for a long time, especially due to its flagrant violation of environment norms.

This is not the first time that AoL has been in the thick of controversy. It may be recalled that the NGT principal bench in Delhi is also following up AoL for organising the World Culture Festival in March 2016 on the ecologically sensitive Yamuna floodplains, causing irreversible harm. The bench in Delhi has fined AoL Rs 5 crore. The organisation has not liked the decision one bit, and has been trying to use its huge political clout to clear its name.

In another development, AoL will coach Indian Forest Service officers of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on “building competencies for personal excellence” at a “one-week compulsory training course” in Bengaluru in December.

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