Art Of Living: It is not the amount, it is the principle

Jun 01, 2016, 10:04 IST | Hemal Ashar

Why is the media so enthusiastic about 'fine' asks irate Art Of Living slamming use of word, while insisting it has done nothing wrong

The Art of Living (AOL), led by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has been given a rap on the knuckles told to pay R4.75 crore as a fine, the country’s top green court said yesterday, following it up with some trenchant criticism of the AOL.

The AOL had been given the green signal with the three-day ‘World Culture Festival’ on the banks of the River Yamuna in March this year, on the condition that it would pay a Rs 5-crore penalty for damage to the area’s ecosystem. The Culture Festival opened after the last gasp controversy playing host to thousands including PM Narendra Modi.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Not so 'fine' with us: AOL's Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

At that time, AOL had paid up Rs 25 lakh saying they would pay the rest. They then asked that the Rs 4.75 crore they owed be treated as a bank guarantee.

Yesterday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) accused AOL of using the court order to hold the event, and then go back on its word. The sum is not too much for Sri Sri’s organization to cough up, hardly an amount which will make the yoga and meditation enthusiasts suck in their collective breaths in dismay, “but, it is not the sum it is the principle,” said AOL’s legal advisor, Ketan Desai.

Desai also accused the media of being very enthusiastic about using the term ‘fine’ but this sum is a ‘compensation deposit’ not a fine.

When asked whether they were trying to use words simply to obfuscate the issue he stated, “it is important to clarify as the word fine implies that we (AOL) has done something wrong, when in fact, it has not. Tell me which act or rule have we violated?” he asked.

Desai added that they were “unhappy” with the judgement. It is not about, “the amount being big or small,” said Desai when reminded that R4.75 crore was well within the means of the mega organization with thousands of well-heeled followers. The Art of Living has never said that we don’t have funds. “This is about standing up for the truth,” he stated, rather dramatically.
Desai said AOL was unhappy about the pre-assessment of the site, which was, “done unscientifically, where the site was pre-judged and an amount was fixed.”

The AOL had filed an application to reconstitute an independent and an unbiased expert committee to examine the impact of the World Culture Festival, on the Yamuna floodplains on the ground that the existing committee had prejudged the issue, and created a self imposed bias for itself. The NGT yesterday offered to appoint two more members on the Committee on the condition that we withdraw our application, and give up the grounds taken in it.

We chose to argue our application as this committee had arrived at an arbitrary figure of Rs 120 crore based on a very brief ‘visual’ assessment. It has pre-judged the issue, they are currently under self-imposed pressure to justify that figure, and have definitely created a bias for itself. The application for reconstitution of the committee will now be taken up on July 4. In the meantime the existing committee has been asked to do the inspection, the findings of which will be kept with the court in a sealed cover till July 4. The AOL added that any competent independent body could have come to assess the impact of our event on the Yamuna floodplains.

Desai, when told that there was a feeling that AOL had got away with holding the festival, and was now trying to wiggle out without paying, called allegations as “bald allegations by the media,” and advised, “visit the site of the Culture Festival. It was once full of rubble, today it is green and full of flora and fauna.”

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