The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today termed as "very irresponsible" the public statements made by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living (AOL) after an expert panel said in its report on the Yamuna that the organisation's cultural extravaganza had "completely destroyed" the riverbed.
"The statements which your client (AOL) had made were very irresponsible. The media reports clearly stated what your client has said. What your client has done is very irresponsible," a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar said.
In its statement to the media, the AOL had termed the expert committee's report, submitted to the NGT, as "biased" and said it "contains no analysis, no in-depth investigation, no reports of any scientific tests to support the conclusions.
The conclusions in the report are merely the opinion of the expert committee without scientific basis. The report does not reflect the true state of the ground."
The bench's remarks came during the hearing when the counsel for AOL sought extension of time by three weeks for submitting its response to the expert committee's report.
The tribunal, however, granted a week's time to AOL to file its response to the committee's report, by September 12.
The issue came up when AOL's counsel sought time to file a response to the report, while the counsel for petitioner and environmentalist Manoj Kumar Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said the organisation has already formed its opinion on it as it released the statement to the media just a day after expert panel's report.
"The very next day they formed their opinion. If they want time, why did they make their opinion in media," the counsel for the petitioner said.
To this, AOL's advocate claimed that the organisation had not done any such thing as alleged by the opposite side and argued that it should not be made a media trial.
"From the averments made in the application, there is hardly any ground for extension of time. We grant one week's time for filing response. Reply be positively filed by September 12," the bench said, while posting the matter for September 28.
AOL had on August 31 moved the tribunal seeking extension of time for submitting its response to the report.
A seven-member expert committee headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary of Ministry of Water Resources, had opined that the three-day 'World Culture Festival' organised by AOL had not only damaged the floodplain, but the ground too was "now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation".
The AOL had refuted the findings, saying the NGT committee's report was "biased, unscientific, lacked credibility".
The NGT had directed the expert committee of senior scientists and experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, IIT, Delhi and other agencies to inspect the site of the AOL festival site which was held in March.
The committee, in its 47-page report, had said that due to the three-day event, the floodplain has lost "almost all its natural vegetation" like trees, shrubs, tall grasses, aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth which provides habitat to large number of animals, insects and mud-dwelling organisms.
The green panel on March 9 had refused to prohibit the 'World Culture Festival', held from March 11 to 13, but had asked AOL to pay a compensation of Rs 5 crore for damaging biodiversity and aquatic life of Yamuna.