New Delhi: The fate of renowned spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s massive festival along the Yamuna floodplain is to be decided by India's top environmental court today, however, the experts put into the task to assess the situation said that Sri Sri's Art of Living foundation must pay at least Rs. 100 crore for causing damage to the river.
The Art of Living’s three-day World Cultural Festival, starting from March 11, will be featuring yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers and cultural performances. However, the organisation landed into controversy regarding the venue selection: over 1,000 acres on the Yamuna banks have been converted into a makeshift village.
Over 35,000 artists and visitors from 150 countries would be welcomed on a magnificent seven-acre stage. The organisers deny any major construction on the river banks but the construction of temporary bridges, mobile towers, dirt tracks and a huge parking area could well be seen.
Extensive damage has been done to the flood plains, which despite the pollution, is rich in flora and fauna: harbours more than 320 bird species and 200 types of plants. "The major damage is the levelling of the flood plain, some of the wetlands and vegetation have been lost," Professor CR Babu, appointed by the National Green Tribunal to review the site, told NDTV. “100-120 crores will be required to undo the damage and Art of Living must pay that money as a penalty.”
The National Green Tribunal (NGT), the body that looks into cases pertaining to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources, has marked the area ‘ecologically sensitive’ and has orders restraining any construction — be it temporary or permanent — on the floodplain zone of Yamuna in the NCT of Delhi.
A petition has also been filed by change.org into the cause of changing the venue of the function. “Don't destroy the #Yamuna Floodplains - Shift the Art of Living Festival”: the title reads. The letter, which is written to Prime Minister of India & Chief Justice of India, Chairman of NGT, chief minister of Delhi and Art of Living Foundation has already attained 20,405 supporters.
“In its journey of 1376 kms from Yamunotri to Allahabad, 22 kms of River Yamuna flows through Delhi. Ironically, this journey of 22 kms through the most powerful city in the nation is primarily responsible for choking the river. What enters the city as a revered river, unfortunately, exits as a drain, a dead water body. Amidst this chaotic ecosystem, floodplains come forth as the only hope for the survival of the river,” the first paragraph points out.
Meanwhile, the Opposition launched an attack on Centre over the raging issue. Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, enquired how can the army be deployed to build pontoon bridges on the river for the event.
The leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad too asked explanations from the government. Modi government calls itself a champion of the environmental cause, but why ain’t they opposing such an event, he questioned.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who had earlier agreed to attend the opening ceremony of the festival, recently announced his absence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too might not be able to make it to the site because of security issues.