The Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments have virtually given a clean chit to the Art of Living Foundation, an NGO led by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar that was accused of damaging nearly 420 acres of the Yamuna floodplains by hosting a cultural event in 2016.
A three-member committee of officials from both the governments said in a report submitted to the National Green Tribunal on Friday that the site did not show signs of lasting environmental damage, as was reported by a seven-member committee of senior scientists.
The panel with the government members inspected the site on Wednesday.
“The land where the function of Art of Living was held is fully covered with grass along with some saplings/seedlings of various tree species. This kind of grass and natural regeneration of seedlings is not possible on compacted soil,” the latest report said.
The soil on the eastern bank (where a car-parking was made) “was very loose and very healthy crop were standing”, it added.
The findings contradict the report of the seven-member panel set up by the green body that included comprising eminent scientists CR Babu, AK Gosain and NK Labhasetwar among others.
They had said that the site was damaged because it was levelled by compacting soil and several water bodies had been filled up.
The NGT had in March 2016 allowed the festival, saying that as the matter was ‘fait accompli’, they could not ban it. The three-day World Cultural Festival soon grabbed headlines for allegedly polluting and damaging the Yamuna floodplain ecosystem.
A week ago on July 21, the NGT formed a committee comprising senior officials of the Delhi Development Authority and the chief engineers of the irrigation department of Delhi and UP.
The committee was directed to submit an action plan by July 28.
The latest report also claims, “No significant size of wetland or water body was noticed by the committee in the area used by Art of Living. The committee also could not see any heap of debris in the site.”
“From the images (read Google images) it is evident that no wetland or water body is seen on the site prior to the event,” said the report.
In contrast, the seven-member committee had said that the Art of Living’s event led to the loss of water bodies, wetlands, floodplain vegetation and biodiversity.
The Art of Living too roped in 15 experts to prepare a report to counter the claims of the seven member expert committee.
The NGO’s report had said: “If at all any such accidental damage which would have taken place during the event, in all probability they have already been reversed by natural processes. With the arrival of monsoon in 2016 all the lost plants and animals would have re-colonised the event site.”
None of the panellists nor any representative from the NGO or the from the government wished to comment on this much hyped legal tussle. The NGT would hear the matter again on August 4.