A large swathe of the ecologically-fragile Yamuna floodplain in east Delhi resembled a garbage-littered wasteland on Monday, a grim byproduct of the Art of Living’s three-day cultural festival.
Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s showpiece but controversy-marred event was over on Sunday while volunteers and hired janitors were apparently asked to take rest for a day before clearing the piles of plastic bottles, cartons, torn papers, carpets, chairs, tables, and scaffolding.
The trail of trash is not the lone problem, though.
The floodplain with porous sand forming its top layer was covered with mud and flattened by road rollers over several days before the festival began on Friday. Clay and compacted mud do not allow water to seep in, which is essential to replenish the groundwater.
Puddles from sporadic rains over the past couple of days confirmed environmentalists’ worst fears about how tinkering with the floodplain’s top soil will diminish its water absorption capacity.
“The top layer is supposed to be sand. It allows water to percolate. This is clean water that acts as a water resource. Compacted mud and clay hamper this process and the inherent ability of the floodplain to absorb and store water is severely affected,” water activist and physicist Vikram Soni said.
Art of Living (AOL) representatives denied giving the floodplain a mud pack.
“We only leveled debris lying on the floodplain. We had to level the ground to put chairs and carpets,” AOL counsel Saraswati Akshama Nath said.
The Delhi Development Authority, which owns the floodplain, said there was no debris before the organisers prepared the place for the festival.
The seven-acre stage will remain there for another “two-three weeks”. “Cleaning efforts will continue thereafter,” an Art of Living (AOL) statement said.
The AOL has appointed private agencies to collect and clear garbage, clean mobile toilets, and fumigate the venue. The cleaning contract had “been given to Hemant Gaekwad, who incidentally also cleans the PMO house and the Rashtrapati Bhavan,” the organiser said.
But Ravi Shankar has asked volunteers to take a break and resume work from Tuesday “since they have been working 24x7”.
He had asked his followers on Sunday to make sure the venue was clean. A day later, a handful of volunteers were present. But roads leading to the venue were polished clean by ragpickers.
The festival to commemorate 35 years of the AOL came under fire from environmentalists after the eco-sensitive floodplain was chosen as the venue. The National Green Tribunal imposed a Rs 5-crore fine on AOL founder Ravi Shankar.
But the event went on as scheduled with thousands of people, mostly Ravi Shankar followers, thronging the venue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union ministers, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet members were present at the function.