Art of Living controversy: Time to get facts right

Written by: Nandhini Sundar
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New Delhi, June 3: The verdict was clear. The Art of Living Foundation would have to pay up the remaining Rs 4.75 crore as compensation for the damage caused to the Yamuna riverbed during the three day World Culture Festival hosted in the month of March.

The National Green Tribunal in a recent hearing rejected AOL's appeal to form a fresh panel to inspect the site to offer an 'unbiased' report and arrive at the final environment compensation fee. The tribunal also rejected AOL's plea to pay the balance amount of the interim compensation in the form of a bank guarantee.

AOl row: Time to get facts right

AOL has all along claimed that no damage was done to the flood plains as a result of the three day festival; that the impact assessment done by the appointed committee is not scientific and hence requires a fresh fair assessment of damage if any.

If the whole episode is seen objectively, there is a strong ground for AOL's contention that the assessment done currently is biased.

Let us for starters take the manner in which the damage has been assessed by the NGT. The expert committee from NGT made a cursory one hour visual inspection of the land allotted for the festival to assess the damage and compensation was fixed based on this assessment.

No qualitative or quantitative assessment of the actual impact or damage was carried; no samples were taken, no scientific analysis done.

Any scientific analysis takes a specific amount of time. It requires, besides many grades of analysis, sampling of existing data, collating it with historical data along with various rounds of screening.

Such an analysis would also need to be correlated with the actual facts of what the organisation had done on the flood plains, along with what actually prevailed before they took over the land to host the festival. None of this happened.

When scientific scrutiny and analysis have been missing in the entire assessment and compensation demanded, it is only fair for the organisation to demand such an assessment be done before slapping a huge amount as compensation package.

AOL is also accused of releasing organic enzymes into the Yamuna and polluting the river. If the river was really polluted by releasing enzymes, is there data to prove that?

Was the BOD value measured before such release and compared with the values after the release of the enzymes to prove this contention scientifically?

Incidentally the Barapullah drain, with great liberty, empties untreated waste water into the Yamuna. Does this not amount to pollution and if so, the same environmentalists battling against the enzymes should have long back taken up this issue and made noise. Why has that not happened?

Interestingly, the same flood plains house many colonies on one side while construction for three hospitals is currently underway in another section.

Besides, permanent structures such as the DND flyway, Batla House, unauthorised housing along the Kalindi Bypass, the Commonwealth Games village as well as the Nafees road coming from Jamia Millia Islamia have stood on the flood plains for years.

No objections, no environmental damage, no compensation has been slapped on those responsible for these.

But the three day event which involved no permanent construction, even the huge stage being a floating one without a foundation, invited so much flak as well as claims of irreparable environmental damage.

A couple of weeks back, reports of a contempt notice being served to AOL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar made the rounds when none such had actually been served.

This was an offshoot of a petition filed based on unverified newspaper reports of Sri Sri's comments on NGT which were later found to be baseless.

Reacting to the recent NGT's rejection of AOL's appeal, Sri Sri tweeted, "Since the Art of Living has not created any air, water or soil pollution, we will fight till the end for justice."

If indeed damage has been done, let that be proved beyond doubt through a scientific analysis.

If environment damage is truly the bone of contention, let the permanent structures occupying the rest of the flood plains along with the issue of Nalas emptying untreated waste into the Yamuna be taken up with the same seriousness and commitment.

Such a commitment would demonstrate the seriousness of the petitioners in safeguarding truly our rivers and environment.

Factual reports on such would again display sincere commitment by media where there can be no case of wilful bias or hounding of any particular organisation. It is certainly time to get the facts right.

(The author is a freelance journalist and editor of a design magazine)

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