The World Cultural Festival, which was organised by Sri Sri Ravishankar's Art of Living (AOL) Foundation in the Yamuna floodplains in March 2015, has "completely destroyed" the floodplains, causing "invisible loss of biodiversity" that "may never be able to return," an expert panel said in its report to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The seven-member committee of experts, which was appointed by the NGT to take stock of the damage caused due to the event, said that the entire floodplain area used for the main event site has been "totally destroyed by complete clearing of all kinds of vegetation on the floodplain...filling in of water bodies and all depressions, dumping of debris and garbage followed by levelling and heavy compacting of the ground...most of the ecosystem functions of natural wetlands have been completely lost...this is an 'invisible' loss of biodiversity which cannot be easily assessed, and most may never be able to return."
The report also mentioned that the "simplification of habitat into a flat land has eliminated all water bodies in the impacted area...these water bodies control floods, help groundwater recharge, support vegetation, fish and other biodiversity. Overall, the floodwater retention capacity of the area has been severely compromised."
It added that "the floodplain has lost almost all of its natural vegetation...(which) provides habitat, food and sites for breeding/nesting to a large number and kinds of animals including birds, fishes, frogs, turtles, insects and innumerable bottom and mud-dwelling organisms...these organisms were rendered homeless, driven away by the intense activity and many were consigned to their graves under the debris."
The panel also pointed out that its members were "prevented from making any study and were forced to retreat by the AOL volunteers on the site" on April 15, and that they again visited the site "for a visual assessment" on June 6. It said that satellite images of the site taken on March 15 and May 10 supported the observations made by them.
"The NGT is yet to hear our application for reconstitution of the committee. Hence, it is not logical to take the report of the committee into consideration before our application is heard. Taking all facts into consideration, it is clear that the allegations of environmental damage are unscientific, biased and unsustainable. We will submit our objections to the report in detail once we have had a chance to go through it," the AOL told the Indian Express.