AOL representatives called the NGT expert committee's report "baseless, flawed, unscientific and biased".

To NGT findings that Yamuna event destroyed floodplains AOL lists its scientific evidencePTI
news Environment Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 19:44

Representatives of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s The Art of Living (AOL) dismissed the report of the expert committee to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on environmental damage to the Yamuna floodplains as “concocted and without any logical or scientific basis.”

Speaking on behalf of AOL, a four-member team of environmental and legal consultants said that the foundation has scientific evidence to show that its World Cultural Festival held in March had caused no damage to air, water or soil in the area.

Rebutting the main arguments of the expert committee of damage caused to wetland habitat, the panel members said that this fundamental classification was flawed, as the area had never been classified as a wetland.

Environment consultant, Prabhakar Rao said that authorised documents such as the Delhi Wetland Atlas and Survey of India maps from 1986 showed that this area was never classified as wetland. The area had always been classified as a floodplain, he said. While events such as AOL’s could not be held in wetlands, he stated, cultural events like the Kumbh Mela have always been held on floodplains.

On the allegation that the AOL event had destroyed local biodiversity in the region, Prabhakar said that this had not established scientifically, nor the effect clearly quantified. “We have satellite photos from 2000 showing the area before and after each monsoon. These photographs clearly document that the area was being used for agriculture, for growing vegetables like beans and cabbage.”

To a later question on the expert committee also providing satellite photographs, Prabhakar stated that AOL’s photographic evidence was systematic, datestamped and GPS-tagged. The expert committee’s photographs, on the other hand, were random, did not demarcate the venue properly and included areas outside the venue area, he claimed.

Ecosystem expert Dr Ranjan asserted that the land on which the AOL event was held is a point bar, a feature created by the deposition of sand and sediment. Such land is characteristically flat, and consists of alluvial sand. Such sandy soil, he said, cannot be compacted.

“On a very sandy soil, which is highly porous and permeable, wetlands cannot be formed. It is a depositional feature. Wetlands are never formed on depositional features.” he added.

On the allegations that the AOL constructed roads and ramps to access the site, he stated that the earthen roads exist in satellite records since the year 2000, and that the roads had been built to facilitate construction of the DND flyway and the digging and maintenance of the Barapulla drain many years before the AOL event.

Legal counsel Kedar Desai said that AOL had recently found a letter to the NGT from the expert committee, which stated that the original estimate of damage worth Rs 120 crores, was an “inadvertant mistake”.

He also stated that one member of the committee CR Babu, gave an interview to Outlook Magazine even before scientific investigation of the site was undertaken, and in that interview Babu “passed judgement that AOL had damaged the environment without any scientific investigation.”

By giving an interim report that damage worth Rs 120 crores had been caused, he added,” they have put pressure on themselves to support their report, and somehow to support that initial Rs 120-crore figure, they have come out with this baseless, flawed, unscientific and biased report,” he alleged.

On the future course of action, the AOL representatives said that the report would be contested scientifically. The organisation has made an application for the reconstitution of the expert committee, and AOL would pursue the matter legally, they added.