The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Centre to file an affidavit today to explain why no environmental clearance was needed for raising temporary structures in the Yamuna flood plains, even as the police warned of “stampede” and “pandemonium” in a letter to the Ministry of Urban Development after an inspection of the venue of Art of Living Foundation's three-day event.
"You (MoEF) file an affidavit by tomorrow and tell us why no environmental clearance is needed for raising temporary structures in flood plains,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Swantanter Kumar said.
The event has come under the scanner of the green body after a set of petitions were filed demanding its cancellation over concerns of potential permanent damage to the riverbed.
The NGT also asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) what their quick reaction team was doing when debris was allegedly brought and dumped by the Art of Living Foundation, the organiser of spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival.
Resuming the hearing on pleas seeking cancellation of the Festival on the Yamuna flood plains from March 11 to 13, Kumar said, "You (DDA) must tell us where the debris has come from? In the Yamuna, 5-6 feet dumped material has been seen. The DDA response team remained unaware of that. You can't wash your hands off."
Meanwhile the Indian Express reported that the Delhi Police has warned of "utter chaos" at the venue unless shortcomings in preparations are addressed, raising concerns about the stage where the Prime Minister and several VVIPs are to be seated. The police have said the stage lacked a structural stability certificate.
The police have also warned of "possibility of pandemonium bound to result in utter chaos leading to total breakdown of law and order,” the report said.
The Centre has asked the Delhi Police to ensure full security in view of "terror threat" in the country. The Home Ministry, in a communication, has advised the national capital's police to take all possible steps to ensure peace. The Delhi Police has also been asked to ensure that no stampede-like situation should arise during the function, sources told PTI.
The Home Ministry advisory came in the wake of heightened terror threat following inputs that 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorists have entered India from Pakistan through Gujarat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the event on Friday. President Pranab Mukherjee was to attend the valedictory function on Sunday but he pulled out of the event citing "unavoidable circumstances".
DELHI GOVT LIKELY TO DECLINE PERMISSION FOR PARKING
The Delhi government is also likely to decline permission being sought by Art of Living to park thousands of vehicles at Millennium Park DTC Bus Depot.
"The government will decline the permission sought by the Art of Living as the matter of Millennium Park Bus Depot is already pending in the Supreme Court and that government cannot allow space under this circumstances. Besides, there is no space for parking additional vehicles inside the depot," sources told PTI.
In February, the Supreme Court had said ordering demolition of Delhi Transport Corporation's (DTC) Millennium Bus Depot at this juncture would not be appropriate and granted one year time to Delhi government and DTC to get the 2021 master plan amended failing which it would have to shift the bus shelter from the Yamuna river banks.
Villagers have said that buffaloes who never ventured near the water are now entering the water. Even the buffaloes recognize! (5)— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (@SriSri) March 3, 2016
Thanks to the efforts of over 100,000 Delhi households who for 3 months prepared enzymes to clean nallahs, methane emission has reduced.(4)— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (@SriSri) March 3, 2016
It takes enormous courage & commitment to ready a place where once, one could not even breathe due to the stink. (3)— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (@SriSri) March 3, 2016
The Art of Living should be lauded & rewarded for even choosing such a polluted place for a prestigious international event. (2)— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (@SriSri) March 3, 2016
NGT PULLS UP DDA
Notwithstanding the response by DDA's counsel Alok Bansal's statement that there was no debris in October and November, Justice Kumar shot back: "You are saying there was no debris in the months of October and November. Obviously, that has come subsequently, and the quick response teams should have taken note of that."
Crticising the DDA for being insensitive to letters and photos that brought the presence of debris to its notice, the NGT asked why the DDA didn't take their cognisance.
Tearing into the Uttar Pradesh Government's decision of granting the parking permission for the event, the NGT sought to know from the U.P's counsel, "Under what authority you have given the parking permission? Does the area you have allotted for the event come under flood plane?"
Besides, the NGT also sought to know whether the organiser the Art of Living Foundation have acquire more than the allotted land for the event and how much money the government has spent on clearing debris from the allotted land.
Expressing concern over the impact of the forthcoming event on environment, Justice Kumar sought to know from all the official respondents - DDA, Delhi and U.P. governments, Environment Ministry and Art of Living Foundation - whether they have considered the impact of the event on environment, river and biodiversity, and the pollution it could generate.
"If somebody has to alter the flood plain, don't you think it requires your clearance," the NGT asked the Environment Ministry.
Inquiring about the expected number of people attending the function, the NGT asked as to what would be the maximum estimated number of participants at the event at any given point of time.
The Art of Living Foundation replied that 2-3 lakh people are expected at the festival at any point of time. During the hearing, the Delhi Government, however, submitted before the NGT that the World Culture Festival organiser has not taken any permission either from the Delhi Police or the Fire Department.
On March 3, the DDA had submitted that it had granted conditional permission for organising the event. However, the DDA told the NGT that it had no idea about the magnitude of the programme.
The Green Panel also questioned the building up of pontoon bridge by the Army on river Yamuna for the festival, and asked the DDA counsel as who gave the permission for setting it up. While DDA said it was only required to give no objection certificate for the bridge, Delhi government submitted that its role for the pontoon bridge comes only at the time of flood and MoEF passed the buck on Ministry of Water Resources.
Art of Living (AOL) in its submission said that it had taken the requisite permissions from all the authorities except from the police which is subject to permission from fire department and they have fulfilled all the conditions.
The use of army soldiers to build bridges on the Yamuna flood plains gave ammunition to Congress to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying it was "shameful" and asked him is this his type of nationalism and patriotism.
Another opposition party, JD(U), also gave a notice in Rajya Sabha to raise the issue of environmental degradation.
"The last few days have been an eye-opener. The first shocker was the distressing news that the Defence Ministry had asked Indian Army Jawans to build (pontoon) bridges for a private event on the banks of the Yamuna.
"Is this the job of the Jawan? Is this the respect that Modi Government gives to our Jawans? What is the justification of using the army as contract labourers?", the AICC said in a commentary.
Noting that India's soldiers lay down their lives for the honour of the great nation, it said it is "shameful" that the Modi Government asked one of the world's largest and the bravest armies, to do the "bidding" of a private organisation.
"Is this your Nationalism, Mr Prime Minister?", the party asked in the commentary posted on its website.
(With inputs from agencies)
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