Sri Sri Ravishankar’s response to the NGT appointed expert panel’s finding can be summarised in one word: callousness. The spiritual leader called the report a “conspiracy,” alleged that environment experts have developed a “sense of humour” and shifted the blame on the tribunal for giving him permission to hold the World Cultural Festival in March 2016.

 

Perhaps a short lesson in history would put the Art of Living Foundation (AoL) and the NGT’s war into context.

 

For weeks, environmental activists protested against AoL’s chosen venue for its World Cultural Festival. They argued that it would destroy the Yamuna flood plain and the ecosystems that surround it. Their contention was noted by the NGT, which gave its green signal only after receiving several guarantees from the foundation and levying a fine of Rs 5 crore as interim environment compensation.

 

A few months later, a seven member expert panel found the ground levelled, hardened, compacted and reported that flood plain has witnessed a loss of its natural vegetation. The findings estimated that it would take 10 years to restore it and would cost Rs 42 crores.

 

Since then, the spiritual guru has made several grandiose statements disputing the fine levied on AoL but he has forgotten about his responsibility to his immediate environment.

 

 

Earlier, Sri Sri Ravishankar claimed he should receive an award for leaving the Yamuna in a better state. The findings are however are contrary to his claim. Experts found that huge amounts of earth and debris were dumped in order to construct ramps.

 

By dismissing scientific evidence, Sri Sri Ravishankar has discredited the law of the land, and by extension, its power of a judiciary body. However, the spiritual guru could benefit from noting that the judiciary is the only vestige of justice that protects and preserves individual and collective rights.

 

And no one is above that, not even a self-styled god who commands an army of followers from across the world.

 

To be sure, AoL has always been vague and unclear in its relationship with the country’s top environmental court, NGT.  In 2016, the foundation’s lawyers told court that they did not dig the plain to erect a 40 feet high stage. Instead, AoL said plates were used to hold the poles. However, the Delhi Development authority could not corroborate this.

 

Sri Sri Ravishankar could have chosen a different venue for the World Cultural Festival. Instead, he said that no stadium or ground could host an audience of 35 lakh, a number quoted on the website. However, the foundation’s lawyers claimed that the event would be attended by 1-3 lakh people.

 

The spiritual leader could dispute the fine amount levied by the NGT but he can’t dispute this: the Yamuna flood plain has been damaged after the World Cultural Festival and the Art of Living Foundation must play an active part in its restoration.