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New Delhi: The fate of Art of Living (AOL) Foundation’s ambitious and grandiose World Cultural Festival hangs in balance, just three days before it is scheduled to begin, with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) deciding to continue its hearing on Wednesday.

A verdict is expected on Wednesday.

In the course of Tuesday’s hearing, the tribunal had harsh words for the various agencies involved in allowing the event on the ecologically sensitive and important Yamuna floodplains, and tough questions for the foundation’s lawyer.

Among them was one on the number of people expected to attend the event. Despite its own publicity machinery touting a 3.5 million number, the lawyer told the tribunal that only 2-3 lakh people were expected to attend.

A bench headed by chairperson of the green tribunal, justice Swatanter Kumar questioned AOL, ministry of water resources, Uttar Pradesh irrigation department and other agencies if they had conducted any kind of environment impact assessment before holding the event.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which granted permission to AOL to use the land clarified before the court that permission had been granted subject to “complying with earlier order of NGT and obtaining permissions" from concerned departments.

“In so far as the permission granted is being questioned, every word was carefully used and it was subject to conditions laid by the court. The realm of the courts’ conditions include using the site for temporary construction which has been ensured." said counsel Rajiv Bansal, appearing for DDA.

In this regard, the court questioned DDA if it had found any violations by AOL of the courts’ order of 13 January with regard to dumping of construction debris at the site. The court referred to photographs showing debris. DDA maintained that there was “no debris at the event site" and that it doubted if the pictures the court was referring to were a true representation of the floodplains of Yamuna where the event is slated to be held.

AOL also reiterated its stand of not causing any harm to the environment and stated that it had obtained permissions from concerned authorities and adhered to the terms of permissions.

“We have obtained permissions from authorities like Disaster Management, ministry of culture, ministry of tourism, ministry of home affairs (MHA), department of art and culture (DOAC) and ministry of external affairs (MEA). Permission from the Delhi police is awaited and likely to be obtained soon," said Saraswati Akshama Nath, counsel for AOL.

The court also took a dim view of the construction of pontoon bridges for the event and pulled up the ministry of water resources over permission granted for this. These observations were made as the court was hearing a case filed by environmental activist Manoj Misra against holding of the World Culture Festival from 11-13 March by AOL on the banks of river Yamuna.

The event is to commemorate 35 years of the foundation, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among those expected to attend, although television channel CNN-IBN said he might give it a miss. President Pranab Mukherjee will not be not be attending the function according to a statement issued by the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In his petition, Misra highlighted that in 2010 and 2011, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar campaigned extensively for keeping Yamuna pollution free and thus it is surprising that the organization he heads is now resorting to activities, which will pollute the Yamuna and cause irreparable damage to its environment.

He has cited the violation of an order passed by the green tribunal on 13 January which prohibited any further construction activity in the demarcated flood plain while holding a penalty of 50,000 for indiscriminate dumping of any debris/construction material around the banks of Yamuna.

“This proposed activity would be in blatant violation of the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002", the petition which Mint reviewed stated.

Several violations were observed including construction debris being dumped, one completed pontoon bridge and another under construction, destruction of flood plain, disappearance a large number of birds and other natural life, he said. A report by a four-member expert committee appointed by NGT, comprising professor A.K. Gosain, professor Brij Gopal, professor C.R. Prabhu and Shashi Shekhar, secretary, ministry of water resources, has said that the event could have adverse environmental impact on the floodplains and estimated 100-120 crore as the cost of restoration of the floodplains after examining the extent of damage, indicating that AOL may be let off with a fine.

Meanwhile, AOL has maintained that it is using eco-friendly material comprising of bamboo, wood, mud at the site which would not cause any harm to the ecosystem.

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