Climate degradation has taken the centre stage in the international forum. The Paris Summit or COP-21 concluded with a framework mechanism of tackling the menace of climate change and conserve the environment. The famous Paris Agreement has received worldwide appreciation. As many have applauded the agreement framed under common consonance and with a forward looking vision of conserving the environment, the agreement envisages to keep a check on practises leading to environment degradation and vowed to reduce the level of emissions.
The Indian delegation, under the leadership of Hon’ Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has played a key role in formulating the Paris Agreement. The International diplomacy with the inclusive role of Non-Governmental Organisations have managed to agree upon this benchmark agreement with an insight to protect and conserve the environment from further degradation, and keep a strong vigilance upon those encroaching it. In India, the environment has a deep spiritual significance. Rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are considered to be holy, and many projects are proposed with foreign collaboration to initiate the cleaning of these holy rivers. Bio-diversity in India has both spiritual and cultural relevance. But, developmental activities have undermined their importance leading to large scale destruction by undertaking deforestation, quarrying, land degradation, etc. In the wake of these growing issues, many statutes were enacted such as Environment Protection Act, 1986, Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981, to name a few, . with the sole objective of safeguarding the environment. The establishment of National Green Tribunal on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 passed by the Central Government, further provided a legal mechanism with separate judicial institution of keeping a check in case of any violation and further the objectives of safeguarding the environment.
. But, this article endows an attempt to highlight a contemporary issue. The World Cultural Festival was was attended by “tens of thousands of people” from India and abroad. The capital city was honoured to be the host of this event, and not only domestic travellers, but travellers from across the world attended this event. The location of this event was near the floodplains of river Yamuna. Many efforts are undertaken to conserve the river, and many safety measures are adopted to reduce further deterioration of this holy river. But, the permission granted by Delhi Development Authority to organise the event on a massive scale near the floodplains has caught many eyebrows. Several environmentalist and like-minded citizens have questioned its validity. The National Green Tribunal has also taken cognisance of the issue, and taken steps to take measures in preventing a huge violation of environmental laws. The NGT had formed an Expert Committee, under the chairmanship of Shri Shashi Shekhar, Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest, India, to investigate the ground level reality. The committee members extensively walked through the DND flyover and the floodplains of the Yamuna to flock together the ground level violations caused during the construction phase of the event. The committee has provided its recommendations to the National Green Tribunal, which states the imposition of fine upto Rs. 120 cr as damages on the Art of Living Foundation (who is going to orgainize the event) for causing gross violations to the environment. The foundation has contended that, due safety measures were taken during the construction phase, and construction is mostly undertaken with eco-friendly materials. But, the recommendations of the report seem to be the antithesis of the contention.
The observation provided by the report was after undertaking intensive field research and gathering all the available data. The report has clearly indicated the level of deterioration caused to the floodplains and its impact to the vegetation. But, the report nowhere recommended the cancellation of the event. Before we understand the directions provided by the committee, we must first analyse the observations made; based on which we can form an opinion regarding directions provided. The committee observed that the entire floodplain between the river and the DND flyover has been levelled flat. The natural vegetation has been removed and all the small water bodies have been filled up. The construction debris has been found to be dumped along the road, especially near the river margin. Apart from the removal of vegetation, most of the trees have also been removed. The construction of parking lots to accommodate the vehicles has resulted in mass scale degradation of land near the river. The committee also observed that, 650 portable toilets were constructed in order to avoid open defecation and facilitate public, but proper measures are highly doubted. The committee observed that the total area that has been impacted on the western side of the river would not be less than 50-60 hectares. In this entire area, the floodplains have been completely destroyed, the natural vegetation consisting of reeds and trees has been completely removed, and the large number of birds and other natural life that was supported by this floodplain has vanished due to this destruction.
The National Green Tribunal in its order dated January 13, 2015 directed the ecological restoration of river Yamuna. The committee found DDA in violation of the order for granting the Art of Living Foundation to organise this event on the floodplains. The committee was of the strong opinion for the imposition of fines upto Rs. 100-120crore after reviewing the appropriate penalty to be imposed, and cautioned that no such act must be tolerated that are causing destruction of the river and the vegetation. The committee further recommended that the fine imposed must be kept amongst the National Green Tribunal, so that such fund can be divested towards environmental activities aiming to protect and implement further measures efficiently. The committee also provided an iconic recommendation that the destruction caused must be restored within the period of one year starting from the date of the closing of the event. This recommendation can be a new alternative measure adopted which involves direct input by the party at fault, and can also be seen as a corrective measure. The participants were around 3.5 million and to accommodate such large number proper measures were expected to be taken. The committee directed that the limit should be restricted considering the holding capacity. In the end, the imposition of fines can be a deterrent measure, but yet many miles to cover to prevent such mis-happening in future. The role of the DDA for granting permission after denying it earlier raises many suspicions. The act of the DDA should be kept under the strict vigilance, and must be made accountable for violating any order delivered by NGT. The institution like the National Green Tribunal is required to be empowered with more independence to undertake its activities without any whims and fancies, and autonomy must be ensured so that the directions provided are strictly complied with.
The World Cultural Festival was undeniably a huge event, but the process of organising it is highly speculative. The concern of environmental protection has a deep cultural sanctity in India. But, the ongoing events cast a different perspective.