New Delhi: Budging from his earlier stance of ‘not paying’ the Rs 5 crore ‘fine’, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that the Art of Living (AOL) foundation will abide by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order and pay the amount ordered by it but as a ‘compensation’ and ‘not a penalty’.
“The NGT has said this. This is not a penalty, not a fine, it is development compensation. A development fee for a biodiversity park,” he said on Sunday evening as the 3-day long World Culture Festival on the banks of Yamuna came to a close.
Stating that ‘he said he was willing to pay’, Sri Sri said, “If it is for development, definitely… I am all for the Yamuna’s development.”
Giving the World Culture Festival the go-ahead, the NGT had last week ordered the AOL to pay Rs 5 crore, but later amended its order asking the AOL to pay Rs 25 lakh first and the rest within three weeks. The latest development holds significance in the backdrop of Sri Sri’s remark that ‘he would go to jail but not pay a penny’.
Defending the organising of the festival on the flood plains of Yamuna, he said they would work for the rejuvenation of the river. The AOL founder said his organisation will come with up a concrete plan for conservation of Yamuna river.
“We had consulted a couple of environmentalists before the event and they had said there would be no damage to the flood plains if this event was held. Further, we will also consult some environmentalists and work on rejuvenation of Yamuna with a concrete plan of action for Yamuna,” he said.
He said they had initially thought of holding the event in a stadium, but then the idea had to be dropped because of the magnitude of the programme. “Any stadium would not have been able to accommodate these many artists and people,” he said.
He said over 172 dignitaries from across the globe had come for the event, which drew intense criticism and also litigation over allegations that it damaged the ecology of Yamuna flood plains. Questions were also raised on deploying army personnel for its preparation and the traffic woes due to the massive event.
Sri Sri also appealed the political parties not politicise events having a bearing on the country's reputation and suggested that the media has been ‘harsh’ in its criticism of the World Cultural Festival organised on the Yamuna flood plain. He claimed that his Foundation has already received invitation from Australia, Mexico and other nations for holding the next edition of the event.
"We need a certain maturity. I don't mind but I request all political parties. Whenever such a grand event is being organized, party politics should be kept aside. You should come together so that India's prestige on the world stage rises. It is not easy to organize an event of this magnitude... It is a major thing... so that people from across the world can feel connected," Sri Sri said.
"People from across the world are amazed. We got a letter from the Australian Prime Minister asking us to hold the event there. They are ready to give all the help we need, from Mexico... The countries are keen to host this event. At the same time, the international media is asking why the Indian press is so harsh towards this festival. I smiled and said that I don't know," he added.
World leaders hail Sri Sri
World leaders have hailed Art of Living (AoL) and its founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for holding the World Culture Festival and invited him to their countries.
British Prime Minister David Cameron invited Ravi Shankar to address the House of Commons, while Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull invited AoL to Australia for the next World Culture Festival.
Cameron sent his invitation in a message through his Conservative Party's parliamentarian Matthew Offord who attended the AoL's World Culture Festival here. "British Prime Minister David Cameron has invited you to address the House of Commons whenever you visit UK next time. People say that no one can change the world but Sri Sri had made a good start. We are seeing a ray of hope," Cameron was quoted as saying by Offord.
The Australian Prime Minister, who could not turn up for the event, invited Sri Sri through his message to AoL that Australia would love to hold the next festival.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos also sent a message. "It's a gathering from across the globe to promote values and human life on earth. Sri Sri teaches us that happiness and peace which is inside us. We need to recognise it to be able to live happy. No more fear, hatred, if we only want happiness," he said in his message.
German parliamentarian and deputy chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) Armin Laschet said: "Twenty-five years ago, there was a wall in Berlin and people were shot dead while crossing it. Today, there's a wall of terror and violence between Russia and Ukraine, in Syria and some part of Africa."