In a peculiar turn of events, the organisers of the world’s largest cultural festival in the National Capital Region have agreed to pay the Rs five-crore fine imposed by a top environment court but decided to contest the decision and seek a refund.
“We will pay the cash, but fight to get it back and use it for development purposes, we could even go to the Supreme Court,” Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the spiritual head of Art of Living that organised the 11 to 13 March festival, said in a telephonic interview with Firstpost.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said he has petitioned the Ministry of Environment and Forests to form an independent panel to probe the charges because “we are not convinced we have caused damage to the riverbanks as claimed”.
“Let a scientific panel look into the charges, let there be no motivational issues in resolving a needless crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees attended the event on what was billed as the world's largest stage, spread across seven acres.
AOL paid Rs 25 lakh at the time, and said the rest would be given later. They then asked that the 4.75 crore that they owed be treated as a bank guarantee and that it should apply towards creating a biodiversity park in the area.
The National Green Tribunal blamed AOL for using the order of the court to hold the event and then going back on its commitment, filing multiple legal cases in order not to pay the fine. “The conduct of the foundation has been called into question,” the NGT said.
The NGT, during the hearing, had said the fine was an interim one and that its panel had suggested a much higher fine, the amount going into the range of Rs 100-120 crore.
Environmentalists had accused organisers of ripping up vegetation and ruining the river's fragile ecosystem by damaging its bed and disrupting water flows.
“We have filed two appeals, one against the quantum of fine and second against the biased report submitted by the panel, seeking its replacement. We didn't file multiple cases to delay the process. I will prove that we improved the site, not damaged it,” said the 60-year-old spiritual guru.
The opening of the event was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though President Pranab Mukherjee dropped out after controversy over environmental clearances erupted.
“This could be another, bitter green debate, but I am ready for it because I am not at all convinced at the charges and would like an independent assessment made.
“I am sad AOL is being dragged into these needlessly. It is like being fined despite driving through a green signal on the road,” Gurudev added.
He said he had offered to meet up with the panel of environmentalists who levelled the charges but heard nothing from them. A detailed point-by-point rebuttal prepared by AOL in response to charges levelled by the green brigade went unnoticed.
“But one thing is clear, if this is a fight, let the fight resume. Like some have benefit of knowledge, some (referring to the green brigade) have the benefit of ignorance. They are blaming a group that has cleaned a little over 600 tonnes of garbage from the Yamuna,” he said.
The spiritual guru said he and his team are even ready for an “open debate” on allegations of damage to the area's delicate ecosystem.
“I am all for it, I am ready for a conversation but do not haul us over the coals for something we have not done, like saying we have cut down all the trees, destroyed all vegetation in the plains and disrupted the flow of the river. Pontoon bridges do not disrupt flow of the rivers,” he added.
Courtesy: F India