NGT questions Centre over Yamuna clearances

PTI3_8_2016_000261A Army personnel construct temporary bridges over Yamuna river on Tuesday for the World Peace Festival | PTI
  • The Green Panel also questioned the building up of pontoon bridge by the Army on river Yamuna for the festival, and asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel as who gave the permission for setting it up.

The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday questioned the Centre as to why no environmental clearance is required for erecting structures in Yamuna flood plains for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living three-day 'World Culture Festival'.

"You (MoEF) file an affidavit by (Wednesday) 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 direction came after counsel appearing for Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) said that they have found no debris at the site, when an expert team had visited and as per Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006, no environment clearance is needed for temporary structures.

The Green Panel also questioned the building up of pontoon bridge by the Army on river Yamuna for the festival, and asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel as who gave the permission for setting it up.

DDA, Delhi government, MoEF said that they have no relation with the grant of permission for setting up the pontoon bridge as all the three said that they are concerned only with different issues.

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.

Advocate Rajiv Bansal appearing for DDA backed the authority's decision to grant permission for the event saying that it has given the nod with conditions that no permanent construction will be permitted without permission from the competent authority.

"The area is meant for recreational activity. The area is with DDA and it is the competent authority. Permission was granted after taking proper legal opinion which was conditional that no permanent structure will be constructed and also that it will be subject to permissions from other concerned authorities," he said.

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 bench after hearing the matter adjourned the matter for Wednesday. The NGT is hearing pleas seeking stoppage of ongoing construction on the flood plains for the Cultural festival.

During the hearing, DDA said that the plea seeking stay of construction activity was filed with a delay after activity had started at the site and it needs to be dismissed.

It said that constant watch is being maintained that no debris or municipal waste is being dumped in Yamuna flood plains and a running contractor is there to remove the debris, if any dumped.

The bench then said that DDA just can't wash its hand off by saying no debris is there as the photographs on record does show the presence of waste at the site.

"In October, November and December, till the time we handed over the site to the organizers, there was no debris at the site. We are telling this with utmost responsiblity that there was no debris," Bansal said.

DDA said that it had granted permission for 24.44 hectare for holding of the event in which 3.5 lakh to 5 lakh people are likely to participate and has till now not found any violations of its conditions by organizers of the event.

The bench asked the Uttar Pradesh government that under what authority of law was the parking area alloted, does the parking area fall under flood plains area, does the area permitted has been exceeded by the organizers and how much money been spent to clear the debris from the alloted area.

Counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh government said that no debris was found at the alloted area, so there is no question of money being spent.

The counsel further said that permission was granted as per the notification in which flood plains could be alloted for parking purposes during non-monsoon seasons so that there is no damage to environment and no permanent structures could be constructed.

The bench, asked the counsel whether thousands of cars making emission will not cause pollution to the environment.

It asked all the parties to consider the impact of the such a event on the environment, river, ecology and biodiversity.

"Assuming that all necessary permissions were taken for the event but has anybody considered what the impact will be on the environment, river, ecology and biodiversity. Has any study being conducted in this regard," the bench said.

It also asked the AOL, whether it has carried out any Environment Impact Assessment study of the event and how did it had satisifed the DDA to grant permission for the function.

Counsel for Art of Living (AOL) foundation said that it has no instructions about the study of environment impact assessment but it has satisfied the DDA for permission by fulfillng the condition that no permanent structures will be constructed on flood plains.

AOL said that no concretization has been done, no permanent structure has been built and only wood, clothes and bamboo is being used at the site.

"We have experience of holding like events in the past and have taken all necessary steps to ensure the safety of people and environment," counsel appearing for AOL said.

The counsel further said that permission from police has not been taken and it will be given after the nod from fire department.

"Due to the terror threat, National Security Guards (NSG) has taken over the venue for the security issue," the counsel said adding that they have put a separation on the banks of river to thwart any untoward incident and proper lighting on pontoon bridge.

The bench asked the DDA as to how the pontoon bridge in which trucks and buses would ply will work without a ramp and concretization on the flood plains.

"No buses, trucks or cars will ply on the pontoon bridge and only people on foot will use it," Bansal submitted adding that it has only provided the no-objection certificate for setting it up.

Advocate Tarunvir Singh Khehar, appearing for Delhi government, said that by a notification of 2014, it can provide permissions for setting up of pontoon bridge only in the eventuality of floods while for rest of the time Ministry of Water Resource will provide the necessary nod.

Counsel appearing for Ministry of Water Resource sought time from the bench to seek instructions on permissions granted for pontoon bridge.

The NGT is also hearing a plea against the foundation's plan to release 'enzymes' into 17 drains joining Yamuna for cleaning the river.

It had also constituted an expert committee headed by Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar to inspect the site of the proposed festival.

The Art of Living foundation, which is organising the function, will have yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers by Sanskrit scholars and traditional cultural performances from India and abroad.

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