REHABILITATION OF the Yamuna floodplains, which was “adversely impacted” by a cultural event organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AoL) last year, will cost over Rs 42.02 crore and may take up to ten years, according to a report submitted Tuesday by an expert committee to the National Green Tribunal.
“It has been estimated that approximately 120 hectares (about 300 acres) of floodplains west (right bank) of the Yamuna and about 50 hectares (120 acres) floodplains of the eastern side (left bank) of the river have been adversely impacted ecologically at different magnitudes,” the report said.
“The physical component (of the restoration) estimated to cost about Rs 28.73 crore should be taken up immediately and completed in two years time. The biological component estimated to cost about Rs 13.29 crore, required to be accomplished over a period of 10 years, should be simultaneously initiated,” the report stated.
It clarified, however, that “these estimates are approximate and need to be strengthened through commissioning of a DPR (detailed project report).” The committee, headed by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, has also recommended that major restoration work be carried out to compensate for the damage to the floodplains.
Responding to the report, Kedar Desai, a spokesperson for the Art of Living (AoL) Foundation, alleged that “the report has been leaked to the media once again even as we were getting hold of our copy”.
“This was expected of them as their malafide intentions to malign us has been evident since the beginning… We have been victims of a conspiracy. And we will fight for the truth to come out,” Desai said in a statement. Desai said that AOL’s legal team would study the report and decide on the future course of action.
In 2016, the NGT allowed AOL to hold a three-day ‘World Culture Festival’ on the floodplains while expressing its helplessness in banning the event, citing “fait accompli.” It had initially imposed a Rs 5 crore interim compensation on AOL for the environmental damage caused by the event.
The seven-member expert committee set up by the NGT to study the impact of the festival stated in its report that the event had “completely destroyed” the riverbed. “The restoration efforts in terms of human, material and financial resources and the time required will be several times more than that for the proposed restoration of other parts of floodplain of river Yamuna,” it said.
“AoL’s activities that led to the damaged/impacted floodplains include: clearing of vegetation, levelling and compacting of the ground and filling up of water bodies, construction of the stage and other temporary structuring, construction of ramps, construction of pontoon bridges, construction of access roads, and blocking the side channel of river Yamuna,” the report said.
Further, it said, these activities have led to “change in topography and habitat diversity, loss of waterbodies and wetlands, loss of floodplain vegetation and biodiversity, changes in substrata – nature of soil, consolidation and compaction, toxic substances and degradation and loss of ecosystem functions”.
The petitioner on this issue before the NGT, Manoj Misra, from Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, said he was “glad that this long awaited report has been made public”. “The process of restoration and rehabilitation of the floodplains needs to start at the earliest since it recharges groundwater during the monsoon months. This was not possible last year,” he said.
The report stated that the “physical and biological components of ecological rehabilitation of the site would cost Rs 42.02 lakh plus expenditure on the monitoring by a team of experts for 10 years plus cost of transportation of material outside the floodplain.” Earlier, a separate four-member committee set up by the NGT on the issue had recommended that the AOL Foundation pay Rs 100-120 crore as restoration cost for “extensive and severe damage” to the floodplains.