NGT allows Art of Living one week to respond to expert committee's Yamuna report

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday allowed the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation another week to file its response on an expert committee report on the Yamuna, which had said its cultural extragavanza 'completely destroyed' the riverbed.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar allowed AOL to file its response to charges leveled against it on September 12, a week from now.

The courts decision came after AOL pleaded for more time to collate information for a proper response arguing the expert committee was allowed to file its findings in August, three months after the 'World Culture Festival' took place.

The NGT had earlier allowed the event to be organised by the foundation between March 11 and 13 on the eastern flood banks of the Yamuna, near Mayur Vihar in Delhi.

Subsequently, on its directions, a seven-member expert committee headed by Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar, had in August submitted its report after site inspection. It showed the event had not only damaged the floodplain, but the ground also was "now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation".

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However, a day later AOL had refuted the findings and said the NGT committee's finding is "biased, unscientific, lacked credibility". The advocate appearing on behalf of Manoj Mishra, the petitioner questioned how AOL could issued a public statement on a matter which is sub-judice.

The court also recognised the issue terming the matter saying, "statements made by your clients (AOL) were very irresponsible, to say the least".

Apart from senior scientists and experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, the expert panel also included those from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and other agencies.

The 47-page report by it pointed out that, the floodplain has lost 'almost all its natural vegetation' like trees, shrubs, tall grasses as well as aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth.

The NGT had fined the foundation Rs 5 crore in March. While the court had earlier estimated an appropriate fine of Rs 120 crore, it settled on the Rs 5-crore figure after a long set of deliberations. While AOL has paid the fine, it has stated it will win the money back through the court proceedings.

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