The Ministry of Culture had in December paid Rs 1.7 crore to the Art of Living Foundation for holding the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains, the Central government's counsel told the National Green Tribunal on 22 April. This drew strong remarks from the NGT as it had been kept in the dark about this payment.
AOLF has been sued in the NGT over hosting the festival, which the Tribunal in a 9 March order said caused permanent damage to the sensitive floodplain ecology. But it allowed the event to take place against a Rs 5 crore initial compensation.
While the Ministry of Culture had sanctioned Rs 2.25 crore to be given to AOLF, both the Foundation and the government's counsels had not revealed to the NGT that some of the money had actually been paid.
On the basis of this, in its 9 March order, the NGT had even said it could forfeit the payment if AOLF did not pay the Rs 5 crore.
However, during hearings on 22 March, the government's counsel revealed that of the Rs 2.25 crore, Rs 1.7 crore had been released in December.
NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar took strong exception to this, admonishing both the AOLF and government for not having revealed this despite asking them about it "umpteen times". Both counsels said they accept their mistake.
The NGT principal bench headed by Kumar also reserved its order on whether the Art of Living Foundation can pay Rs 4.75 crore of the compensation charge through bank guarantees. Of the Rs 5 crore, the foundation eventually paid only Rs 25 lakh before the event began on 11 March, promising to pay the balance by 1 April. However, on that day, it filed an application asking the NGT to modify its order to allow payment through bank guarantees.
This application was discussed in the NGT on 21 and 22 April, and the NGT's decision is reserved.