The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday directed the Delhi government to respond to the claim made by the Art of Living foundation that debris on the Yamuna banks existed prior to its three-day cultural extravaganza held last year.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar asked them to make submissions in this regard, stating the extent of debris removed by each of these authorities.
"You have filed affidavits before us in Manoj Misra (Yamuna) case stating that debris from the floodplains of Yamuna have been removed. However, they (AoL) are saying something different. You address us on that behalf," the bench said.
The observation came after the lawyer for the the Art of Living (AoL) foundation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar told the green panel that the debris already existed on the site before the event and the condition of floodplains was "pathetic" and "highly polluted".
The AoL had contended that the event site was not an identified floodplain even after NGT's 2015 direction to the authorities to demarcate the floodplain, and hence it cannot even be considered a floodplain.
The AoL's contention came in the backdrop of an expert committee earlier telling the NGT that a whopping Rs 42.02 crore would be required to restore Yamuna floodplains which was ravaged due to the AoL cultural extravaganza.
"In any event, there is no prohibition whatsoever on conducting cultural activities on floodplains. Even according to the reports of the principal committee submitted to this tribunal, which form an integral part of the judgement dated January 13, 2015, conducting of cultural activities on floodplains is not prohibited...
"Having obtained all required approvals from all relevant statutory authorities, Respondent No 3 (AoL) has not violated any law or regulation by holding the festival at the event site or carried out any activity which has led to any pollution," it claimed.
AoL told the bench that the contention of the committee that compaction has been caused by the World Culture Festival organised by it was "erroneous and untenable" as the panel has not conducted any scientific test or geotechnical investigation of the soil density of the land.
"In the absence of scientific data and investigation, the Committee has concluded, without any basis, that there has been compaction. It is scientifically impossible to assess compaction without conducting a soil density test. Merely on a visual assessment (as done by the Committee), it is not possible to assess whether or not there has been compaction," it claimed.
The allegation that there has been compaction in the area where the stage for the event was located is without any basis as the stage was a floating stage and was supported on a series of iron scaffolding with raft footing.
"Nothing was anchored or embedded in the ground and as such the stage had a floating foundation. The impact of such a foundation on the ground is therefore insignificant," AoL said.
Referring to a 1985 Survey of India map, the AoL said the site did not have any wetland as there are no contours and the entire event site is flat.
"Even the Ramsar Convention which is a fundamental document covering wetlands across the globe does not identify or mention that the event site contains any wetland. There are various satellite images which indicate that the event site does not contain any wetland as alleged or otherwise.
"It is evident from these images that the event site is land on which agricultural activity is being carried on. These satellite images at various intervals from December 22, 2000 to December 6, 2015 establish conclusively that the entire event site was under agricultural use," it said.
The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue on Tuesday.