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Rs 5 crore NOT fine, but environmental compensation: NGT

Last updated on: March 11, 2016 15:41 IST

The National Green Tribunal asked Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living foundation to pay Rs 25 lakh upfront (on Friday), and the remaining Rs 4.75 crore in a three-week period. It also clarified that it was not a penalty or a fine, but environmental compensation. It also added that if the AOL fails to pay the Rs 25 lakh, then grant of Rs 2.5 crore by govt will be attached to it.

Earlier, the AOL had told the NGT on Friday that it needed a month's time to pay the five-crore penalty as it was a charitable organisation.

The National Green Tribunal on Friday took strong objection to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's remark on refusal to pay Rs five crore fine in connection with the three-day cultural extravanganza on Yamuna flood plains but allowed more time to his organisation to pay up.

The panel was disturbed with Ravi Shankar's statement that he would not pay the penalty and would prefer going to jail, saying, "When a person of that stature makes such statements, it hits the rule of law. If anybody hurts the image of the tribunal, he will be taken to rule of law."

However, the NGT considered the plea of Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation that it was a charitable organisation and it was difficult for it to generate the huge amount of Rs five crore in such a short period and asked it to pay Rs 25 lakh immediately failing which the grant of Rs 2.5 crore sanctioned to it by Centre will be attached.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also clarified that the amount of Rs five crore be treated as environmental compensation and not as penalty.

The bench said it will attach the grant of Rs 2.5 crore, sanctioned to AOL by Ministry of Culture for the extravaganza that commences today, if it does not pay Rs 25 lakh. The tribunal, which had earlier directed AOL to pay a fine of Rs five crore before commencement of the event on Friday, however, granted it three weeks time to pay remaining Rs 4.75 crore.

When the counsel appearing for AOL submitted that the statement refusing to pay was made in a context that it will be difficult to pay as the foundation is a charitable trust, the bench said adherence to the rule of law is not only the duty of government but citizens also.

"Certainly adherence to the rule of law is the duty of not only the government but citizens also. The rule of law is a very foundation of administration of justice.

"If the rule of law is hurt, it will affect the justice dispensation system. This controversy loses its significance by the stand taken by the Foundation. We do not wish to go into the merits of the controversy," the bench said and fixed April 4 as the next date of hearing.

The order of the tribunal came on a plea by environmental activists seeking stay on AOL's World Cultural Festival from Friday to March 13, alleging that they have not deposited Rs five crore fine.

The petition has alleged that the AOL has not taken mandatory permissions from competent authorities like fire department, police and the Central Public Works Department.

During the hearing in the NGT, where the Central Reserve Police Force and the Delhi police personnel were deployed after some Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena members threatened to hold demonstration, the AOL also moved an application seeking four weeks time to deposit the fine and comply with all the directions of the tribunal.

The AOL said being a charitable organisation, it is difficult for it to generate the huge amount in such a short period. On being asked by the tribunal if the AOL had received the Rs 2.5 crore grant from the ministry of culture, the counsel for the foundation informed that Rs 1.68 crore had been disbursed to it out of the total amount.

The AOL had also sought that Rs 5 crore fine be taken as restoration amount for biodiversity park and not as a penalty. The tribunal also pulled up Ministry of Water Resources for not doing anything to protect river Yamuna from pollution despite directions.

"What have you done? Have you inspected the river? Despite directions you have not checked pollution in the river," the bench said.

During the hearing, a member of Ojaswi Party was also thrown out of the court room for disturbing the proceedings with the NGT issuing a show cause notice to him for contempt of court

On Thursday, the tribunal had directed the AOL Foundation to pay the entire amount of Rs 5 crore by Friday, saying law will take its own course if it fails to do so.

The green panel had also directed the Central Pollution Control Board, the Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue proper directions to the organisers of the event with regard to disposal of municipal solid waste and drinking water.

The counsel appearing for the DPCC had informed the tribunal that as directed by it, a committee is already visiting the site and if necessary, directions will be issued.

The NGT had earlier expressed its helplessness in banning the event, saying it was "fait accompli".

Nevertheless, it had imposed a fine of Rs five crore on AOL as environmental compensation after coming down on it heavily for not disclosing its full plans and also on the DDA and environment ministry for their role.

The tribunal, which found several environmental violations by the organisers, blamed the delay on the part of environmental activists in raising the issue before it which compelled it to grant permission for event.

Image: Policemen review security arrangements on the eve of the three-day World Peace Festival organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in New Delhi. Photograph: Kamal Kishore/PTI
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