The Art of Living (AoL), headed by spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, today alleged that the expert committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal had tried to “distort and mislead” it on the damage caused to the Yamuna floodplains. The AoL told a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar that there has been “complete non-application of mind” by the expert panel which has gone beyond its jurisdiction to recommend rehabilitation of the floodplains. The case relates to the AoL holding a cultural extravaganza called the World Culture Festival from March 11- 13 last year.
Raising doubts over the satellite images used by the committee to estimate the damage, advocate Nikhil Sakhardande, appearing for AoL, said the expert committee report was based on a single satellite image dated September 5, 2015, taken during the peak monsoon season to show that wetlands existed on the event site. “This is distortion of facts to deliberately mislead the tribunal. Rainfall statistics for the year 2015 clearly show the satellite image is a depiction of ground conditions saturated due to the monsoon which was abnormally high. “This is completely extraneous, irrelevant, and non- application of mind. It misrepresents the ground conditions and a clear case of selection bias on part of the committee,” the lawyer said.
The counsel submitted that the expert committee in two reports, dated July 28 and November 28 respectively, made statements about how AoL had compacted the land on the Yamuna floodplains. “In so far as soil compaction is concerned, no technical data has been clearly adduced and unsupported by facts. When the panel finds that there is compaction, it has to be supported by technical data and test reports,” he said.
He said the experts committee report has “erroneously” considered an area of 170 hectares for its assessment, whereas AoL has submitted that there was no evidence on record to show that any area exceeding 25 hectares was utilised for the event and, in fact, the petitioner had himself stated the area as 25 hectares in its original application. On the issue of rehabilitation of the floodplains, the AOL said the committee itself was not aware of the actual condition of the event site before the world culture festival. “It was submitted that the committee has admitted in its quantification report that it is not aware of what the event site was before the event and for this reason it is not giving recommendations for restitution of the site but giving recommendation for rehabilitation of the event site to its ideal state.
“It was unilaterally decided by the Committee without any order of the tribunal. It is an excess of jurisdiction and contrary to the Section 15 of the NGT Act. This shows that the committee has exercised power which was not vested in it and therefore the entire report is rendered bad in law,” the lawyer added.
He said one has to consider whether the activity (event) carried out by AOL was prohibited under the judgement of the tribunal dated January 13, 2015 in the Yamuna case. “The allegation against us is that we violated the orders of NGT is totally wrong. There is no violation of the judgement. Once we get all the approvals, there can be no violation of the judgement,” he said adding that the judgement does not prohibit the activities which were carried out by the foundation at the site. Earlier, the experts committee had told the NGT that a whopping Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore the Yamuna floodplains which was ravaged due to the AoL’s cultural event.