On Friday, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court had ordered an interim stay on the event at the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple, Thanjavur.

Why was Art of Living allowed to set up camp at heritage site HC summons officerImage: AR Meyyammai
news Controversy Monday, December 10, 2018 - 12:22

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Monday issued summons to the Assitant Conservation Officer of Archaeological Survey of India, Thanjavur, to explain on what basis was the permission granted to Sri Sri Ravishankar's Art of Living Foundation to organise a two-day meditation event at the Brihadisvara temple in Tamil Nadu. The Division bench, comprising Justices KK Sasidharan and PD Audikesavalu, asked the officer of the ASI department to appear before the court on Thursday, December 13.

On Friday, hours before the ‘meditation’ was to begin, the Madurai Bench ordered an interim stay on the event at the Sri Brihadeeswarar temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and had posted the hearing for Monday. It had directed the ASI officials to ensure the temporary structure erected inside the temple premises be removed.

A controversy over the event erupted on Thursday after pictures of large pandal set up by AOL on the temple grounds started doing the rounds on social media. Over 800 guests were expected at the event, which was scheduled to begin at 6 pm on Friday.

However, heritage experts and political parties condemned ASI’s decision to give permission to conduct the event. While protests broke out outside the temple on Friday morning, N Venakatesh, a resident of Kumbakonam, filed a petition in court opposing the event.

The petitioner pointed out that the Art of Living Foundation had already been fined by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for 'damaging' the Yamuna river bank during an event in 2016.

He also questioned why an offender was being allowed to carry out an event at a UNESCO world heritage site. He also pointed out that being a 1000-year-old temple, putting up tents could weaken its structure and also cause pollution at the site.

After hearing these arguments, Madurai bench asked why it was being organised at a temple and pointed out that a 'meditation camp' could be held at a private hall. Apprehensions regarding fire safety were also raised.

AOL's counsel claimed that such private event had been allowed on temple premises before, albeit the state government denied this. Following this, the court placed a temporary stay on the event and reportedly ordered district authorities to ensure that the temporary structures be removed from the site.

An AOL representative had told TNM the foundation will be organising the event at a private venue named Kaveri Mandapam in Thanjavur.

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