A green court in Delhi on Tuesday deferred its decision on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s cultural mega-extravaganza on the ecologically fragile Yamuna flood plains, amid fresh controversy over Indian Army men being used to construct pontoon bridges for the event.
As the furore grew louder with just two days to go for the March 11-13 “World Culture Festival”, the National Green Tribunal said it will resume its hearing on Wednesday on the pleas seeking cancellation of the event which is expected to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The mega-event marking 35 years of the foundation ran into fresh trouble after army men were seen helping the non-governmental organisation in the construction process ahead of the programme.
However, the defence ministry defended its decision that was apparently taken after Delhi Police expressed fears about the likelihood of a stampede at the venue.
“Public safety is a government concern, and Delhi Police said there could be a stampede with the huge crowd gathering there,” a source close to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told IANS.
The Art of Living Foundation, which is organising the event, may not be charged for the construction of at least six floating bridges by the army as there is yet no policy in place for it, the source added.
In an interview with private TV channel Aaj Tak, Parrikar said the army has been participating in activities like the Kumbh Mela which attract a large number of people. “It was done with the sole purpose of avoiding accidents,” the minister said.
Earlier, the Delhi government, the central government and the event organisers sought more time to reply to the green court’s queries on the environmental impact of the fiesta taking place over some 1,000 acres of land upstream of the DND elevated bridge and on the right bank of the river.
Green activists have raised an alarm that the event violates environmental laws and the mega construction work -- including tents, hutments, barricades, and pontoon bridges -- will pollute the river and alter the flood plain. The construction also included a massive 40-feet-high, multi-floor stage mounted on steel rods over seven acres of land.
The green court asked the union environment ministry if it had given clearance for altering the river’s flood plain. It also asked Delhi Development Authority (DDA) how it had given the nod to the event without conducting any environmental impact study.
The organisers dismissed the concerns in defending the event for which permission had already been given by the Delhi government. “We have got permissions from more than 30 departments and ministries,” defence lawyer Akashama Nath told the green tribunal.
“How could we carry out a study when the environment ministry didn’t ask for it,” the lawyer replied when the tribunal sought the report.
The organisers informed the court that they were expecting not more than three lakh people -- as against 35 lakh reported earlier -- for the event.
Ravi Shankar, the godman behind the event, said not a single tree had been cut and ecological stability had been maintained during the preparations for the event.
“We are asserting that we will turn the place into a beautiful bio-diversity park once we are finished with it. Since 2010, our volunteers have been working hard to clean the river and around 512 tonnes of dirt and garbage has been fished out,” Ravi Shankar told reporters here.
“We want to save the Yamuna. We have not cut a single tree and have maintained ecological stability. We want to see the Yamuna transformed into a beauty again,” he said.