By:- Rishi Saraf
|In the National Green Tribunal||New Delhi, India|
|Applicant||Manoj Mishra ,Other applicants -Anand Arya Pramod Kumar Tyagi|
|Respondents||Delhi Development Authority, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Art of Living International Center, GNCT of Delhi, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department, Prajanya Chowdhary, Anil Kapoor, Anand Mathur|
|Counsel for Applicants||Mr. Sanjay Parikh Sr. Advocate with Mr. Ritwick Dutta, Mr. Rahul Chaudhary and Ms. Meera Gopal, Advocates Mr. Abhay Mani Tripathi, Advocate Mr. Anand Arya (Applicant in person)|
|Counsel for Respondents||Mr. Rajiv Bansal, Sr. Adv. with Mr. Kush Sharma, Advocate for Respondent No. 1 Mr. Tarunvir Singh Khehar, Advocate for Respondent No. 2 Ms. Akshama Nath and Mr.Kapil Gupta, Advocates for Respondent No. 3 Mr. S. N. Patil, Advocate Mr. Rahul Pratap, Advocate for MoEF&CC Mr. Mukesh Kumar Verma, Advocate for Respondent No. 4 Mr. Utkarsh Sharma, Advocate for State of UP Dr. Sandeep Singh, Advocate for State of UP Mr. B. V. Niren, Advocate for MoWR Mr. A.D.N. Rao, Advocate for DMRC Mr. BalenduSekhar, Advocate for EDMC Mr. BirajaMahapatra, Adv. for DPCC Mr. Rajkumar, Advocate for CPCB Mr. Piyush Singh, Advocate Advocate Dr. Varsha Bharti, Advocate for DCB Ms. Puja Kalra, Advocate for SDMC Mr. Nikhil Sakhardande, Advocate Mr. Santosh Chaurihaa, Advocate Mr. SapamBiswajit, Advocate Mr. Varun Thakur, Advocate for N.M.C.G. Ms. Sandhya Raghav, Advocate for MoEF& CC|
|Judges||Hon’ble Mr. Justice Swatanter Kumar (Chairperson) Hon’ble Mr. Bikram Singh Sajwan (Expert Member) Hon’ble Dr. Justice Jawad Rahim (Judicial Member)|
|Issues||Whether there had been environmental damage and degradation due to the Art of Living centre’s mega – event preparation around the area around Yamuna flood plains? Whether there had been the failure of statutory duty by the concerned authorities towards Environment protection? Whether the Art of Living Foundation entitled to pay environmental compensation for the restoration of the floodplain? Whether the Art of living centre should be allowed to hold the event in that area? What should be the amount of compensation payable by the Art of living centre?|
|Relevant laws||Article 48A of the Constitution of India Article 21 of the Constitution Article 51A(g) of the Constitution Section 6 of the Environmental Protection Act (1986) Section 26 of the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) Section 17(3) of the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) Section 33A of the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act (1974) Section 2(c) of the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) Section 17 of the National Green Tribunal Act (2010)|
The NGT or National Green Tribunal was established on 18 October 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, passed by the Central Government. Since then, NGT pronounced various verdicts in relation to environmental protection and conservation. The main objective of the government to set up NGT was to provide a special forum that could provide speedy and just trials in matters related to the environment but there were instances in the past where NGT’s decision was heavily criticized. The Art of Living International Center Case is one such instance where NGT’s approach and handling of the case were severely questioned.
The present case analysis aims to scrutinize the background, facts, issues raised, and arguments on both sides and highlights concepts made in the case.
The “polluter pays principle” has been explicitly used by the Supreme Court in various cases for making polluters liable for the pollution already caused.In the present case, the National Green Tribunal was approached even before the festival being held and shockingly the tribunal granted permission to go forward with the event after paying damages. Such an approach was found to provide hope to those who wish to destroy the environment for their own gain and then compensate for it.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Art of Living International Center, run by Spiritual Leader Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, founded in 1981 is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) working for various humanitarian causes. In March 2016, this organization staged a three-day cultural event – the World Cultural Festival from 11th to 13th March 2016, at the Yamuna floodplains in New Delhi, to celebrate it’s 35 years of formation.
The Yamuna’s banks are regarded to be environmentally endangered, yet the festival’s decorations were spectacular. A 7-acre stage, billed as the world’s largest and capable of holding 35,000 musicians and dancers, was built. New dirt tracks were erected, as well as 650 portable toilets dispersed across 1,000 acres. According to the organizers, 35 lakh people attended the event, with over 20,000 overseas guests.
Finally, Sri Manoj Mishra filed Original Application (OA) No 65 of 2016 before the National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi, on February 8, 2016. The Applicant was a retired officer from Indian Forest Service and was the convener of the campaign “Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan” According to the Applicant, dumping of debris and construction waste is a direct source of not only polluting river Yamuna but even the environment and ecology as a whole.
The applicant raised objections to the event as even preparation for it has caused irreparable damage to the environment i.e. flood plains and rivers and thus prayed for the imposition of exemplary fine and restoration of the flood plain. Several other miscellaneous petitions were also clubbed with this OA.
Art of Living International Center, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and the Art of Living International Center were the respondent parties to this OA, in addition to the DDA.
- Whether there had been environmental damage and degradation due to the Art of Living centre’s mega-event preparation around the area around Yamuna flood plains?
- Whether there had been the failure of statutory duty by the concerned authorities towards Environment protection?
- Whether the Art of Living Foundation entitled to pay environmental compensation for the restoration of the floodplain?
- Whether the Art of living centre should be allowed to hold the event in that area?
- What should be the amount of compensation payable by the Art of living centre?
ARGUMENTS OF THE PETETIONERS
The counsel for petitioners initially argued that the Respondent 3 i.e. Art of Living International Center have caused great damage to the Yamuna river system while preparing for their mega-event and will cause more damage if the event allowed to be happen and alleged that Respondent 3 even failed to comply with the guidelines set up in the Yamuna judgment.
According to the Applicant, there was a need to conduct an environmental impact of the activity including construction works. The DDA had wrongfully reportedly permitted the land in the river bed/flood plain to be used for the event by Respondent No.3.It’s a hazardous precedent because if such events are allowed to happen again and again, the river Yamuna and its flood plains would suffer major environmental damage and deterioration.
Lastly, the applicant argued that in light of the judgment of the High Court of Delhi in the case of Times Global Village (supra), Environmental impact assessment ought to have been carried out before permitting such an event, which shows clearly the failure of the concerned authorities.
The Applicant urged that all existing construction work be halted and that no activity be permitted on the flood plains or along the Yamuna River in Delhi and also an exemplary fine should be imposed on Respondents 1 (DDA) and 3(Art of Living International Center) and efforts should be made for the restoration of river flood plain immediately to its pre-existing status.
ARGUMENTS BY THE RESPONDENTS
- Respondent no.1, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) argued that DDA had been diligent in performing its duties and also in relation to the project which was being monitored by the High Powered Committee. It also argued that the area did not fully come under its jurisdiction.
- Respondent no. 2, the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change argued that the river Yamuna is a tributary of river Ganga and thus it comes under the jurisdiction Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (for short, ‘MoWR’) and also the protection of the flood plains is also a task allocated to MoWR.
It was further argued that the event required small and temporary construction and therefore it did not require approval from the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (for short, ‘MoEF&CC’) or SEIAA under EIA Notification.
Respondent no. 3, the Art of Living International Center, argued that it had taken all the necessary approvals and clearances from different regulatory bodies. It also argued that Yamuna judgment is not binding on respondent 3 as it was not a party to the said application particularly when it had taken all other permissions. It also alleged that the High Powered Committee which was set up regarding environment impact assessment had made erroneous observations and the floodplains had already been destroyed long ago by agricultural activities, dumping of debris and other activities. Additionally, an Affidavit had also been filed by Respondent No. 3 giving details of various environmental programs executed by the said respondent in different States.
In addition to denying the allegations and the grounds asserted, the respondents raised a preliminary objection, claiming that the Applicant had incorrectly named Art of Living International Center as a respondent instead of Vyakti Vikas Kendra-I, which is the representative body of Art of Living International Center and through which all works are initiated. As a result, it requested that the application be rejected due to misjoinder or non-joinder of an essential party.
The tribunal firstly denied a prohibitory order and mandatory directions for removal of construction and restoration of the area because of delay and laches on the part of the applicant.
The Tribunal also found that, while Respondent 3 had applied to various authorities for permission to hold the event, it had not yet received permission from the Fire Department, Police Department, or the MoWR, which, according to the Notification dated July 31, 2014, is the authority responsible for conservation, development, management, and protection of Yamuna. All of these bodies have failed to perform their public obligations with proper diligence.
The Tribunal rejected MoEF&CC’s argument that the foundation is not obliged to obtain its authorization because MoEF&CC’s position is inconsistent with the Notification, particularly concerning the development of an area more than 50 hectares, as stated in the EIA Notification,2006.
The Tribunal eventually found that the flood plains had been extensively interfered with while damaging the natural flow of the river, reeds, grasses, and natural flora on the river bed, based on expert opinions and evidence on file. The river’s marine animals have been further disrupted, and water bodies and wetlands on the flood plains have been devastated.
As a result, on March 9, 2016, the Tribunal issued an interim order for the harm caused to the river’s environment, ecology, biodiversity, and aquatic life, and the Foundation was declared accountable for its restoration in all aspects. In that respect, and in exercising the court’s powers under Sections 15 and 17 of the NGT Act, 2010, the NGT imposed an Environmental Compensation of Rs. 5 crores and ordered the formation of a principal committee to submit its findings within four weeks. The DDA was also fined Rs. 5 lakh for failing to do its obligations after the tribunal discovered severe violations.
The tribunal issued its final judgement on December 7, 2017, after issuing many interim orders. The Art of Living International Center was declared accountable for the damages caused to the Yamuna floodplains, which are under the DDA’s restricted authority.
Two things made clear through this final order, firstly, AOL caused damage to the Environment and secondly DDA failed in its statutory duties.
While in the present case, it is clearly visible how different authorities put out the blame on each other for their own failure to Yamuna river floodplains. The present case is also being heavily criticized for the approach being used by NGT for allowing the event to happen even after serious evidence of environmental damage and failure of statutory obligations by the concerned authorities. It should be noted that NGT was meant for the purpose of protecting the environment and it should have a Zero tolerance attitude towards Environment perpetrator.
- Diganth Raj Sehgal, Case analysis of the Art of Living Foundation : environmental compensation, ipleaders(last accessed 9 june 2021) https://blog.ipleaders.in/case-analysis-art-living-foundation-environmental-compensation/
AUTHOR – RISHI SARAF, 1ST YEAR STUDENT AT NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY ODISHA, BALLB HONS.
 MC Mehta v. Kamal Nath, 1997 (1) SCC 388, Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715;Indian Council for Enviro- Legal Action v. Union of India, J.T. 1996 (2) 196.
 Manoj Misra vs. Union of India & Ors (1996) 2 SCC 594