NEW DELHI: Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar seems to have decided to take on India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal that is hearing a case against him for allegedly destroying the Yamuna River Bed with a cultural mega-event held at the spot in March last year.

In what seems to be fast turning into a war of words, at least from his side Ravi Shankar is using his Facebook page to counter the NGT. He wrote, “"If, at all, any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and state governments and the NGT itself, for giving the permission. If the Yamuna was so fragile and pure, they should have stopped the World Culture Festival.”

This was brought to the attention of the court by the lawyers, leading the NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar to observe, “You have no sense of responsibility. Who gave you the liberty to speak whatever you want to. It is shocking.”

Even as this sharp rebuke was being reported, Ravi Shankar has come out with a second post that leaves little room for doubt.“Those who say the Art of Living is irresponsible simply don't know us or have gained a sense of humour! The truth is we have caused no damage to the Yamuna. When lies are exposed, it is shocking, he wrote on Facebook, clearly playing on the words used by the Tribunal. I think you heard it wrong! Perhaps NGT has slammed its own committee for being irresponsible & inconsistent in both its reports. From Rs.120 cr for wetlands to Rs.13 cr for flood plains! From permanent damage to 10yrs & appointing themselves to restore the place.”

The first Post reported above was brought to the attention of the bench by advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing petitioner Manoj Mishra. He told the green bench that Ravi Shankar had levelled allegations against the NGT, and had posted his remarks on Facebook, repeating these to the media in a written statement.

An expert committee had told the NGT that over Rs 42 crores would be required to rectify the River Yamuna floodplains that had been destroyed by the World Cultural Festival held by Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living.

In fact Ravi Shankar has been using Facebook to attack the green court with the current face off as it were starting two days ago, on April 18 when he posted a lengthy statement saying: The NGT can never get over the blot it has brought on itself by delaying natural justice to the Art of Living and allowing its own committee to malign the law-abiding organisation in the media.

The Art of Living had obtained all the necessary permissions including the NGT's. The application was pending before the NGT for 2 months before the event. They could have stopped the event in the beginning if they wanted to. It defies all principles of natural justice that you give permissions and slap a fine for not violating any rules! This is like giving a "challan" to someone on a green signal!

If at all any fine has to be levied, it should be levied on the Central and State Governments and the NGT itself for giving the permission. If the Yamuna was so fertile, fragile and pure they should have stopped World Culture Festival at the very beginning.

A historic program deserving of applause and appreciation is unjustly projected as a crime! Witnessed by 1.8 billion people all over the world and a massive turnout on the ground, a floating stage of 7 acres without any foundation (a marvel in itself!) the event polluted neither air, water nor land. The world over cultural programs are held on riverbanks.

The whole idea was to bring awareness to save the river. The Art of Living that has rejuvenated 27 rivers, planted 71 million trees, revived several ponds is being projected for destroying a dead river. What a Joke!

The silence of the so-called experts on the debris being dumped there and permanent structures coming around exposes their malafide intentions.

Over and above this, the closeness of the petitioner to the committee raises serious questions for which the Art of Living has filed a bias application, which is pending.

The saviors are called destroyers and the giver of justice is penalizing the honest! Thanks to technology, all allegations against the Art of Living stand disproved by the data available on Google Earth since last 10 years.

I invite all honest environmentalists to study the case and unveil the truth.

I have full faith in the Indian judiciary and am confident that our courts shall uphold the truth and penalize all responsible for the extreme defamation and harassment that has been meted out to the Art of Living.

And the Art of Living’s Legal Team has issued a lengthy statement on the issue as well. An excerpt maintains:

“The Art of Living is extremely hurt and upset with the reports submitted by the so-called committee of experts, constituted by the NGT, particularly the wholly baseless allegation that environmental damage was caused to the Yamuna river/river bank, by the WCF.

The committee of experts has acted in the most irresponsible and patently biased manner.

Firstly, they callously made lofty claims that Rs. 120 crores will need to be spent to rectify the alleged damage. No honest or responsible body of experts would have made such a statement, only on the basis of what was later admitted to be a "visual assessment."

The Committee further compounded its biased conduct when Mr. C.R. Babu gave an interview to the media (and that too before doing any scientific assessment) blatantly canvassing the Petitioner’s case.

Would an unbiased independent committee constituted by a Tribunal give such a media interview? What more do we need to do to show the Committee’s obvious bias?”

It ended with the assertion: “Satellite images clearly show that the WCF has not caused any damage whatsoever to the Yamuna or its floodplains.”

The next hearing is scheduled for May 7.