Passing The Buck: AoL’s affidavit to the NGT has more holes than the flood plain

The next hearing of the case is on September 28

ByIshan Kukreti
Passing The Buck: AoL’s affidavit to the NGT has more holes than the flood plain
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Ironically, the man to whom these profound words of wisdom are attributed heads an organisation that appears to have blatantly lied to the court. Newslaundry has evidence that “educational and humanitarian movement” of Art of Living (AoL), which makes more than Rs 80 crore in revenue and is headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has provided false information to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the ongoing case about the damage done to the Yamuna floodplain.

In its affidavit to NGT, AoL claimed that debris was picked up from the floodplain and dumped at a landfill site in Ghazipur. A Noida based company, MCS Projects Pvt Ltd, carried out this activity, according to the affidavit.

However, when Newslaundry spoke to the owner of the company, Sumit Gupta, and its General Secretary, Sanjeev Kumar, they denied it.

Here is the transcript of the telephone conversation with Kumar:

Newslaundry (NL): Aapne wahan kya kaam kiya tha? (What work did you do on the Yamuna floodplain?)

Sanjeev Kumar (SK): Raasta ubad khabad tha, usko plain kiya, aur kuch nahi kiya. (The pathways were not levelled, we fixed that, nothing else was done.)

NL: Art of living ke affidavit mein joh dumping site hai, Ghazipur mein, uska address bata sakte hain? (Can you tell us the address of the dumping site in Ghazipur mentioned in the affidavit?)

SK: Maine koi dump nahi kiya. (I haven’t done any dumping.)

NL: Aap logon ne nahi kiya? Affidavit mein toh likha hai. (You didn’t? But the affidavit says you did.)

SK: Maine nahi kiya. (We didn’t do.)

NL: Toh affidavit mein toh likha hai? (But the affidavit says you did?)

SK: Likha hoga, mujhe nahi pata. (Maybe it says that, I don’t know.)

NL: Toh aap deny kar rahe hain?  (So you are denying it?)

SK: Main kuch nahi keh raha. Main liable nahi hu aapko batane ke liye. Jisko batana hoga usko bataunga. (I am not saying anything. I am not liable to answer to you. I will tell those who I have to tell.)

NL: Main journalist hoon, meri zimmedari hai ki main aapse poochhoon. Agar aapne landfill kiya hai toh uski location bata sakte hain? (But I am a journalist, it’s my responsibility to ask you If you have dumped at a landfill, tell me the location.)

SK: Maine nahi kiya. (We haven’t done it.)

NL: Aapki company ne nahi kiya hai? (Your company didn’t do it?)

SK: Haan, nahi kiya hai. (Yes, we didn’t do it.)

This was also corroborated by Gupta.

NL: Amitji aur aapki position kya hai company mein? (What is your and Amitji’s position in the company?)

Sumit Gupta (SG): Hum board of directors mein hain. (We are on the board of directors.)

NL: Toh levelling ke alawa aur kuchh nahi hua? (You didn’t do anything other than levelling?)

SG: Haan, aur kuch nahi hua. (Yes, nothing else was done.)

NL: Malba utha ke Gazipur mein dump nahi hua? (Debris wasn’t dumped in Ghazipur?)

SG: Haan aisa kuch nahi hua. (Yes, nothing of that sort was done.)  

AoL filed a written response to the report of the principal committee on September 14, describing the committee as biased. The affidavit filed through AoL’s daughter firm, Vyakti Vikas Kendra, maintains that debris on the Yamuna floodplain was removed before the three-day World Cultural Festival from March 11 to 13. According to AoL’s affidavit:

“The respondent had hired dumpers and trucks to dispose of the debris to the designated construction waste disposal and recycling facility in Gazipur (sic), Delhi. The payment receipts and the number of trips made by these trucks are enclosed in Annexure -4.”

However, the annexure is not a bill or receipt, and does not mention the number of trips made. It is a letter from MCS Projects Pvt Ltd with subject line, “Clearance of construction debris (malba)”. It says that the site has been cleared and debris was taken in trucks -—without specifying the number of trips -— to be dumped in a construction site at Ghazipur and mentions Rs 24,000 as dues.  

When Newslaundry visited MCS Projects in their Noida Sector 71 office, the General Secretary, Sanjeev Kumar as well as owner Sumit Gupta-— whose signature appear on the written statement -— denied ever removing debris from the floodplain.

MCS Projects’s letter also mentions the remuneration amount for the work to be Rs. 24,000. However, Gupta, while maintaining the work was a sort of charity for “Guruji” (meaning Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, said that their company had received between Rs 10-15 lakh rupees for it. He did not have any receipt or documentation to back this claim.

Set up in October 2015, MCS Projects is essentially a construction company. Prior to this, since 2013, the brothers say they’ve constructed a school for AoL, the Temple of Knowledge in Noida’s Sector 48 and an ashram in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. When asked how a company that was created last in 2015 constructed buildings in 2013, Gupta, fumbling a little, said, “Then it was just MCS Pvt Ltd. Last year, we changed the name to MCS Projects.”     

MCS Projects Pvt. Ltd. office building in Noida, UP

The question of debris being dumped on the Yamuna floodplain was raised during the initial part of the hearing on the case in February. Both Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and AoL claimed that they had removed the debris, creating a confusion over who in actuality did it.

In their affidavit, AoL included a letter from DDA saying that AoL should carry out the clearance of debris on the site, which the reply states “resulted into a substantial financial burden”. However, with MCS Projects denying ever clearing the debris, the matter is back to square one.

There could also be serious consequences to their claim of clearing debris being false. “Lying on a sworn affidavit is a serious matter. It is a criminal offence. The court can take suo motu cognisance of the matter and start a separate proceeding or the aggrieved party can file a case,” said Kabir Dixit, a Supreme Court lawyer.     

Newslaundry contacted AoL and one of AoL’s Directors, Gautam Vig, replied with:

“The Art of Living had hired MCS Projects Pvt Ltd as the dumping agency to clear the malba present at the event site before we took it over. DDA had given us permission to clear the malba. (Letter exchange with DDA & malba photos attached)

Accordingly, MCS Projects was hired with a verbal instruction to dispose the debris present at the event site in eco-friendly manner following the health and safety guidelines.

MCS Projects confirmed through a letter that the debris has been suitably disposed at their construction site. (Letter attached)

The Art of Living has never made any factually incorrect statement in any affidavit.”

With affiliated organisations doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, it’s possible that the AoL and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar may well evade responsibility. Perhaps MCS Projects will bear the brunt of what seems to be AoL’s efforts to misguide NGT. Yet the fact is that the buck ultimately stops at AoL’s doorstep and in the words of someone famous, “Truth is that which you cannot avoid.”

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