April 21, 2019

Its time someone called out — Emperor has no Clothes!

Open Letter to Mr. C.R. Babu, Professor emeritus at the Department of Environmental Studies regarding his prejudiced assessment of damage to Yamuna flood plains.

Dear Mr. Babu,

I refer your conversation with Outlook magazine published on June 13th. As I take a deep dive into the rhetoric regarding destruction of Yamuna river flood plains by the Art of Living’s World Culture Festival related activities, I cannot but reflect on the mudslinging during 2008 presidential election campaign in the United States. One of the most animated confusion stories revolved around Obama’s religion, with allegations mostly from conservatives that he was a Muslim. According to the polls, broad sectors of public that held this view reportedly claimed that they heard it in ‘the media’.

One might wonder how could such a misinformed belief have arisen or been perpetuated.

It usually starts with a credible individual committing a casual or wilful transgression of honesty with the media. Media then simply carries it to the masses in the most sensationally eloquent manner without much regard for the collateral damage arising from untruthfulness in the public sphere. Often times it is all a premeditated and well-choreographed circus, like how it turned out to be in the presidential elections.

World Culture Festival attracted over 3.7 million individuals to New Delhi. Inflow of more than 20,000 people from over 150 countries boosted tourism by 13% in the month of March. The pageantry and scale of the event earned multitude of plaudits for Art of Living as well as for the nation from all over the world. The festival was selected as an example of a succesfully managed project and studied at the Annual Convention of Project Management Association of India.

However, the local media chose to focus primarily on rather unsubstantiated compensation for restoring the damaged flood plains. Several local outlets started carrying stories on 120 Crore ‘penalty’ for grave damage to Yamuna flood plains. As one of the three members of the expert committee established by NGT, you have Outlook’s ear. You have a moral responsibility and yet it was astounding to witness that you disclosed your opinion to media based on optics and without employing any scientific rigor or in-depth due diligence. “We had photographed the damages and estimated the cost of the damage and restoration”, quotes the magazine. The records before the NGT make it clear that no scientific assessment had been undertaken at that time.

You also didn’t shy away from making brazen accusations on Art of Living having destroyed ‘entire’ sedimentation or having ‘completely’ destroyed the wetlands. Was that a prescient observation or somewhat biased and malicious notion?

Sir, I have learned from credible expert sources that the Bio Diversity Park that you helped establish near Jagatpur has been a dismal failure. Increase in land salinity, chopping of over 132 old trees of native species and excessive mosquito infestation are real issues that Delhi and its residents are helplessly putting up with. Projecting such a Bio Diversity Park as a success story in order to draw comparison with current issue brings your credibility into serious question.

The letter that revealed it all.

While media was having a field day with your comments, another letter landed on the desk of NGT’s Chairman. This time it was from Mr. Shashi Shekhar, the head of the expert committee that you are part of. I was perplexed to find the tone of this letter to be in sharp contrast to whatever has been said before.

In an earnest admission, Mr. Shekhar, said in this letter that the suggestions to levy the fine by the committee ‘inadvertently got recommended’. Also, since Mr Shekhar was running high fever, he did not get an opportunity to review the entire report prepared by the experts. While he had not endorsed the view, he had urged the team of experts to scientifically assess the extent of impact. Clearly, you spoke to media about estimate of damage even before any scientific study had been carried out. The letter to NGT was concluded with yet another candid admission that 120 Crore was a tentative figure that emerged as a ‘spontaneous suggestion. It was not based on any scientific assessment’. In light of these findings, I wonder why Art of Living has still not filed a defamation motion against you.

Mr Babu, doesn’t your interaction with the media introduce an inherent bias when you start drawing conclusions from yet to be conducted investigation and yet to be disclosed findings of the expert committee? As a member of the NGT appointed expert panel, are you not required to maintain some level of independence and impartiality? Having disclosed your leaning in a media interview, are you fit to conduct any independent assessment thereafter? Aren’t you under self-imposed pressure to uphold what you opined to the media? Most importantly, being a member of an independent NGT appointed expert panel, should you be speaking to the media at all?

In some communications, one seems willing to stretch, distort or take liberties with prevailing conceptions of truth. However, holding on to unscientific and fallacious beliefs raises serious ethical issues when they form the basis for choices that end up harming others.

Yours truly.

Kushal M. Choksi

About the Author

Kushal is Meditator, Entrepreneur, Runner, Seeker of sorts from New York. USA You can also connect with him at https://medium.com/@choksay 


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