The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday asked the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation to pay Rs 25 lakh out of the Rs 5 crore imposed on it as interim compensation, while giving it three weeks to pay the remaining amount. The Tribunal had on Wednesday asked the Ravi Shankar-led Foundation to pay Rs 5 crore by Friday, as environmental compensation for hosting World Cultural Festival on the fragile flood plains of river Yamuna in Delhi.
While Shankar had told media on Thursday that he would rather go to jail than pay the fine, the Foundation on Friday gave an undertaking to the NGT that it would comply with the directions of the Tribunal. However, it sought more time to pay the fine.
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"It is a large amount and we recognise that AOL may not be able to pay at such short notice," the bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar said. NGT had earlier said not paying the fine within the stipulated time would result in "the law taking its own course".
On Shankar's comment that he prefers to go to jail than pay the fine, the NGT chairperson said: "It was unfortunate for a person of such stature to make such statements, which might undermine the rule of law."
However, the green court did not agree with the petitioners' argument that Shankar's statement was contempt of NGT, saying: "It is the court's view the statement was said in a different context."
Later, in a written order, the court said, "To maintain the dignity and majesty of the institutions, Rule of Law is to be upheld. This controversy loses its significance in the context of the present case, in view of the stand fairly taken by the respondent (AOL Foundation)."
The AOL Foundation is formally registered as Vyakti Vikas Kendra, a registered trust. The website of the trust says Shankar founded it, but the board of the trust does not include him.
To the Foundation's plea that Rs 5 crore it was asked to pay be treated as a contribution "towards the restoration amount for a biodiversity project of the DDA (Delhi Development Authority), instead of being taken as compensation amount or a penalty", the NGT clarified the amount was compensation for the damage caused and not a penalty.
The green court also ordered that inability to pay Rs 25 lakh by Friday would result in attachment of government of India's funds of Rs 2.25 crore committed to the function. While Rs 2.25 crore has been sanctioned, an amount of Rs 1.68 crore has been disbursed, the government informed the court.
While noting that large-scale damage had been dealt to the biodiversity of the area, in its Wednesday order, NGT had refused to cancel the event.
Shankar had said on Thursday he would appeal against the NGT's decision. "We have not done anything wrong... We will go to jail but not pay a penny," he had said in a television interview.
"Our latest plea was based on the fact all requisite permissions have not been met and that still holds. But the event is already underway and we hope the court's interim directives of environmental restoration will be met," said petitioners' counsel Rahul Chowdhary.
In its earlier ruling, the court had also directed the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the environment ministry to inspect the site by Thursday and issue directions to the organisers on disposal of municipal solid waste and drinking water. Although a committee has visited the site, directions are yet to be issued.