New Delhi: The ecological rehabilitation of the Yamuna floodplain, impacted by Art of Living’s (AOL) three-day cultural event in March last year, would cost Rs42.02 crore, said a seven-member committee in a report submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday.
This is the last of several reports for determination of rehabilitation and restoration costs and the tribunal is likely to take a call on it at its next hearing on 20 April.
The seven-member committee also submitted an action plan for ecological rehabilitation of the impacted floodplain. It suggested that the costs be divided between Art of Living and other agencies, as the tribunal sees fit.
The committee’s report comes in the wake of a 26 October 2016 order of the NGT, directing it to assess the environmental damage and cost of rehabilitation caused to the Yamuna floodplain.
In its 31-page report, the committee set forth an action plan and broke up ecological rehabilitation into two components—physical and biological—specifying costs and timelines for each. The costs for physical rehabilitation were put at Rs28.73 crore (two years) and those for biological at Rs13.29 crore (10 years).
Measures suggested under physical rehabilitation include rejuvenation of soil in the area by de-compacting, removal of stones, and construction of embankments along roadsides. The biological component comprised of development of catchment areas and stimulation of natural topography of the floodplains.
“The expert committee who were supposed to be non-interested parties to the case and were to act as the eyes and ears of judges have given biased interviews in public while the case is sub judice. The head of the committee who was not a technical person noticed that the figure of Rs100-120 crore (which was recommended by the committee after one cursory visit to the site) did not have any scientific basis and requested the tribunal to not consider it," said Kedar Desai, spokesperson of the Art of Living, on the new report.
“We have been victims of a conspiracy and we will fight for the truth. AOL foundation is a responsible and environment-sensitive NGO. We have never caused any damage to the environment but have in fact worked for preserving and reviving it through various environment-related projects over the years. Our legal team will study the report and decide on the appropriate future course of action," Desai added.
On 9 March 2016, the NGT allowed Art of Living to host the event on the floodplain, and ordered it to pay Rs5 crore in compensation.
In August 2016, a committee had held that the Yamuna floodplain had been completely destroyed in the region where the Art of Living foundation held its World Culture Festival. It said that the floodplain had lost its natural vegetation, had been flattened using soil and debris to fill gaps, its soil composition had been altered and water bodies levelled.
The committee did not quantify the damage, or the amount of compensation that the foundation should pay. However, it suggested that the entire cost of restoration should be borne by the foundation. In a February report, another four-member committee had estimated the restoration cost to be around Rs100-200 crore.