Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Satellite images confirm AoL did no damage

Sri Sri's NGO says it’s being penalized for tempering something that didn’t even exist on Yamuna floodplains

M Rajaque Rahman
The ongoing high-profile tussle between the Art of Living and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is set for an interesting turn with former alleging that it has been penalized for damaging something that didn’t even exist.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s NGO made a high-pitched presentation to media in New Delhi claiming it has scientific evidence that will vindicate its contention of causing no damage to air, water and soil to the site where it hosted the World Culture Festival in March 2016.

“All the allegations of damage to floodplains are scientifically mala fide. An analysis of available independent satellite images of the site taken in 2000 and 2016 clearly proves that the site had no water body or wetland,” said a statement from the organization issued after the presentation. It also added that a Survey of India’s map of Delhi dating 1986 confirms the site was no wetland. Claiming that Spot Google Images show the site as leveled and ploughed agricultural land with crops like sugarcane, it says vegetables are found to be grown there since 2005.

If these claims are true, the allegations of drastically tampering with water bodies and wetlands for which the Art of Living is being made to compensate will fall flat and will raise serious questions about the motives behind raking up the case. Does NGT really think the Art of Living process an unseen power to tamper with something that doesn’t even exist?

The Art of Living reiterated its contention that all conclusions on the issue so far have been reached without any scientific studies or investigations. “Ecology, environmental science and biodiversity being established disciplines of modern science with clearly defined scientific procedures, we demand that any conclusion on the same must be based on established scientific method(s),” the statement added.

It alleged that decisions with huge implications are being taken on the basis of ballpark calculations and by casually surveying acres of land in less than an hour. It also termed the allegations of destroying the natural flow of the Yamuna as outrageous, saying the only activity over the river was construction of three temporary pontoon bridges which were dismantled immediately after the event.

“The arguments against us that we destroyed natural vegetation also falls flat as there were no signs such biodiversity on the site in the images available with us. Instead native plants and crops like gobi and palak were spotted,” it added.

Responding to the allegations of harming aquatic life around Yamuna, the statement said the Yamuna had already sunk to a pit with toxic levels which has severely affects not only the aquatic life, but also the birds that feed on them. It alleged an attempt to put the blame for years of neglect of the Yamuna on three days of Art of Living event and make it pay for it.

It also denied constructing any ramp or paved road on any portion of the Yamuna floodplains. It cited satellite images that show the existence such road even in 2000.

Saying it is committed to restoration of the floodplains if damages are scientifically established, it expressed apprehension that the compensation amount collected from it could be used up in the guise of restoring damages which are yet to be established.

Alleging that process of natural justice has been severely violated, it demanded an independent panel of experts to assess the alleged damage as per fair and scientific parameters for damage assessment.

With the Art of Living pegging its stance on standing up for the sake of saving the principle of justice, no quick end seems to be in sight. Or is it time to give medi(t)ation a chance?