It is no news that Hindu saints are a target of Christian missionaries and the loony left. Neither is it news that a large section of print and electronic media in India reports favorably to leftist and missionary organizations for various reasons ranging from ideological to monetary; and for the same reason are hostile to Hindu public personalities and organizations. Hindu saints are often unfairly and selectively targeted for real and imagined crimes.
One such case currently going on is that of National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s case against the Art of Living Foundation (AoL) for the alleged damage that the World Culture Festival (WCF), organized by it in March 2016, caused to the venue. The venue was the banks and the floodplain of Yamuna in Delhi.
WCF was first such festival of its kind and scale. It was a platform on which various spiritual leaders, politicians and artists came together to promote and preserve tribal and folk culture and wisdom of India. There were 37,000 performers and 3.5 million who meditated together at the event. It was a festival to showcase the cultural and spiritual wealth of India. The visitors were left completely mesmerized by the event.
As was to be expected, some sections in India media started making noise about the ‘environmental impact’ and the ‘ecological imprint’ of the festival with The Hindustan Times, running a story titled “Art of cover-up on Yamuna floodplain”, in which it used false and fabricated information to show as if the WCF had left the floodplain a devastated site.  The AoL Foundation published an official rejoinder on the website of WCF, countering the arguments made by Ritam Haldar in the newspaper.  But to no avail. The general perception in Indian media about the World Culture Festival is that it was an environmental disaster, and nothing else.
Had things been limited to newspaper biases and unfair coverage, it would not have been this bad. But the AoL Foundation and the WCF organizers are embroiled in a legal case filed by the NGT ‘Expert Committee’. The Committee comprises of members accused of getting funds from dubious foreign agencies which have a history of funding anti-India and anti-Hindu organizations. The issue is well covered in another article by R Singh. 
In short, Prashant Parikh is the legal counsel in NGT case against AoL. He has a history of fighting against Modi and the BJP government in various cases since 2002 and has fought for Teesta Setalvad, Medha Patkar and Zakia Jafri. Manoj Mishra, the original petitioner, runs NGOs ‘Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan’ and ‘Peace Institute Charitable Trust’. The latter is funded by the Ford Foundation. Another original petitioner Ravi Agrawal runs the NGO ‘Toxics Link’, which is also funded by the Ford Foundation. Vimlendu Jha, Secretary of the NGO ‘Swechha’, is funded by OXFAM, and is a partner of NDTV of all channels.
The Ford Foundation is famous for intervening in the internal affairs of India and other Third World countries on behalf of the interests of the USA and various Christian missionary organizations.  Though it claims to work in other countries too, but in the period of 2006-2016 every single NGO that it has funded has been working in the region of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal with more than 90% of them in India.  OXFAM is also notorious for its association with various Christian missionary organizations. Enough has been said of the NDTV and its relations vis-à-vis Hindu interests, to mention anything more here.
The National Green Tribunal itself was established in October 2010 as a consequence of the National Green Tribunal Act passed by the UPA Government. Some of its proceedings are questionable evident by the fact that the expert committee formed by it is engaging in a witch-hunt against the AoL Foundation.
To recap the issue, the expert committee formed by the NGT has unfairly targeted a Hindu organization. Many of its members have a long standing animosity with the Modi government and the BJP and are generally seen as standing with anti-India and anti-Hindu forces in issues ranging from Kashmir to the hanging of terrorists like Afzal.
Was the Yamuna damaged?
To answer the question, the jury is still out, as the actual damage done to the floodplain, if any, is still to be assessed. The AoL Foundation claims it actually left the floodplain in a better and a greener situation than it was when it rented it for the WCF.  The organizers have again and again given evidences claiming that how it was not responsible for the ‘waste’ that was showcased by The Hindustan Times and other organizations; that the floodplain is an open space with no mechanism of control and that anyone can pollute it.
The WCF was an event of only three days and any temporary structure that was created was dismantled after the festival was over and no sign left of it at the venue. On the other hand, there are many clear cases of encroachment, pollution and permanent damage done to the floodplain by Delhi Secretariat, the Millennium Bus Depot, the Commonwealth Games Village, Sonia Vihar and Batla House. The AoL claims that neither the media nor the NGT has gone after any of these organizations or institutions. It has chosen to go after one Hindu organization that organized an event of only three days.
Can a floodplain be damaged?
A floodplain is defined as: “an area of low-lying ground adjacent to a river, formed mainly of river sediments and subject to flooding.” By its very definition, it is subject to periodical flooding, and is perennially unmade and remade by the changing course and flow of the river.
Any temporary damage like digging holes, uprooting of the small plants and shrubs, and planting of crops is no damage in the sense that it will all be leveled in the next surge of the river. This ‘damage’ can be undone.
What cannot be undone is the modern construction with permanent structures made of cement, iron, glass and other such materials.
The issue of floodplains recalls the case of the organization of the Prayag Kumbh Mela, the largest Kumbh Melas of all. It is held every twelve years on the floodplains of the Ganga and the Yamuna, at Prayag, their confluence. The ground on which the Mela is set up is vacated by the receding waters of the rivers in a periodical cycle of twelve years. Every twelve years, due to the periodical ebbing and swelling of the river, the water is at its lowest point in the year in which the Kumbh Mela is organized. Once the Mela is over, the waters reclaim the land which they had earlier vacated. Any vestige that the Mela was organized there is wiped off. When the floodplain emerges again after twelve years, it is entirely new.
In fact, not only the Kumbh Mela but almost all great gatherings in India take place on the floodplains of a sacred river, ensuring that there is no lasting damage to the eco-system.
Every river goes through cycles which remake its floodplains. The ebbing and swelling of the rivers is particularly prominent in a country like India where the monsoon torrents change small rivulets into mighty rivers for a brief period of time. In the flooding season, the whole floodplain submerges and when the water recedes, the new alluvial soil is exposed. The nearby agrarian communities turn the floodplain into temporary fields, until the next monsoon.
However in the past few decades, due to environmental degradation, increase of population pressure on the water resources of the nation, and the increased number of dams on the great rivers of India, the volume of water in these rivers has drastically reduced. Due to this, the periodical cycles of making and unmaking of the floodplains has also been disrupted. The water seldom crosses a certain level and the topography of the floodplains which used to be temporary until three decades ago is now becoming permanent.
As a result, they are being now permanently farmed instead of being seasonally farmed, almost without exception. What is even more worrisome is the fact that these newly permanent floodplains have become a favorite ground for encroachment. Earlier, the encroachers avoided making any permanent structure as the river would sweep it away the next season. Only seasonal farming was possible. But now, a sad sight which is too visible to any observing passenger from his train window is the increasing encroachment of the floodplains of the great rivers of India.
This phenomenon becomes even more pronounced in the rivers on the banks of which great cities are situated. The load of the city completely chokes the river. It becomes the drainage of the city and gradually turns into a mass of slush moving at glacial speed. Its flow is almost permanently damaged and so are the floodplains.
The Yamuna, being host to one of the biggest cities in the world, Delhi, has sadly met the same fate. Its floodplains and the ‘delicate eco-system’ that is being referred to in the petition of the NGT were long damaged before the WCF took place. It is sad that this is the state of affairs of the Yamuna and its floodplains in Delhi, but none of the reasons which have caused the damage can be attributed to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, AoL and the WCF. The fact that the NGT committee chose the AoL Foundation to go after, and not the real encroachers, proves its intent of malicious prosecution of a Hindu saint and its general tendency to oppose Hindu interests.
If the WCF did any damage to the floodplain then it was temporary and can be undone in the next surge of the river. However, the damage done by construction in the form of encroachment by Delhi Secretariat, the Millennium Bus Depot, the Commonwealth Games Village, Sonia Vihar and Batla House is permanent in nature and cannot be undone, impacting the flow and eco-system of the river permanently.
A Similar Case with a Different Outcome
Anyone following the AoL vs. NGT case would also have noticed a recent event that happened in Kerala which has striking parallels with it. Sriram Venkitaraman, an IAS officer in Devikulam, Idukki district shot into prominence when he launched the drive against the land mafia in Munnar.  Munnar is a famous hill station of Kerala and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Western Ghats, one of the few bio hotspots of the region. It is a very ecologically sensitive region with more than 3,000 species of flora and fauna calling it their sole habitat.
During the last decade, it has become a favored tourist destination, prompting land mafia to grab lands and convert virgin forests or plantations into tourist resorts. An even more sinister phenomenon is taking place in which the various Churches of Kerala are illegally grabbing land and planting crosses, chapels and churches at every nook and corner of Munnar region and Idukki district. One such cross illegally planted by the church group Spirit in Jesus was demolished by the fearless Sriram Vekitaraman in April 2017.
Instead of supporting the IAS officer in his anti-encroachment drive, the CPI(M) government came down heavily on him. M M Mani, a loudmouth Communist Party leader and Electricity Minister of Kerala called Sriram ‘mad’ and recommended sending him to mental hospital. Venkitaraman was insulted and shouted at by the local CPI(M) leaders on site. Not even the police helped. 
M M Mani said: “The subcollector demolished the cross at Pappathichola as directed by the RSS. It was similar to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.”  Even the Chief Minister supported the land mafia and Spirit in Jesus, condemning Venkitaraman, and asked: “What mistake did the cross commit? A huge section of the people believe in the cross.”  Christian organization Spirit in Jesus, called the act more “brutal than ISIS”. 
In comparison, this case provides more grounds for the green groups to outrage and take action against, but as the culprit here seems to be the missionary organizations and the leftist politicians, no such outrage is to be seen.
There are many such instances which prove that Hindu groups and individuals are unfairly and selectively targeted for action by NGOs which work under the green lobby but actually work at the behest of foreign funding agencies which work against Indian interests. At any given time, many Urs, Islamic gatherings at the death anniversaries of Sufi saints, are going on across India. They have gradually become hotbeds of spreading awareness about Islamic issues, with generally a radicalizing effect on the populations. They take place quietly all across India, and attract huge crowds, with similar environmental concerns. Rarely any media group has ever complained about them.
The practice of the green groups of targeting Hindu groups selectively is symptom of a greater malaise that affects India. Organizations like PETA go hammer and tongs against Hindu festivals like Jalikattu and Kambala, where no animal is actually harmed, while at best produce squeaking sounds against Islamic festivals like Bakrid, where millions upon millions of sheep, goats and cattle are brutally butchered. Media and environmental organizations raise hue and cry about the environmental impact of Hindu festivals like Diwali and Holi, while no such issue is raised during Christmas or New Year. While new fashion fads like Valentine Days are promoted with enthusiasm, Hindu festivals like Nagpanchami are virtually shut down, with the snake charmers’ community forced to go out of business.
NGOs in India have a history of ganging up against Hindu culture and its expressions. They selectively target Hindu saints like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, often embroiling them in legal cases, in order to create a precedence of legal terror, dissuading other such saints from engaging in any activity which tries to uphold India’s pride and honor by sharing its culture with the world. The case against AoL, by the NGT expert committee is such a case of selective targeting of Hindu group, and malicious prosecution at the instigation of foreign funded groups with vested interests in India.
- Halder, Ritam. “The art of ‘cover-up’ on Yamuna floodplain after Ravi Shankar’s event.” The Hindustan Times. April 25, 2016.
- “WikiLeaks revelations about Ford Foundation, India and some important questions”. Opindia.com. November 7, 2016.
- “Kerala Minister calls IAS officer ‘mad’, abuses workers”. The Financial Express. April 23, 2017.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
Pankaj Saxena is a scholar of History, Hindu Architecture and Literature. He has visited more than 400 sites of ancient Hindu temples and photographed the evidence. He has been writing articles, research papers and reviews in various print and online newspapers and magazines. He currently works as the Asst. Professor, Centre for Indic Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad. He has authored three books so far. He maintains a blog at http://literaryfalcon.wordpress.com/