The 35th anniversary celebrations of the Art of Living course is being held on the Yamuna floodplains amid controversy. The event, expected to attract over 30 lakh people, is scheduled from March 11-13. A petition has been moved against the organisers on the grounds that the event would damage the floodplains. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of Art of Living, dismissed these allegations in an interaction with HT.
Preparation for the three-day event has not been without controversy, especially with environmentalists moving the National Green Tribunal.
The first thing that we wanted to do was to approach the NGT and take permission. But NGT has no such system. Only when a petition was filed did the NGT have a say at all. We applied for the location as it was well connected and it was willingly allotted.
We would not harm the Yamuna. Nobody associated with the event will stay there. They will come at 5pm and leave by 10pm. The hue and cry that we are destroying the Yamuna floodplain is nonsense.
Is it true that flora has been destroyed?
First of all, there was nothing there but weeds at the location. Secondly, the land is cultivated. If it was virgin land with flora and fauna, I would have been the first one to say ‘let’s not do anything here, we don’t want to destroy anything’. We have not cut any trees. We pruned the branches of four trees because they were obstructing the view.
What of the allegation of dumping debris?
It is incorrect. We have only levelled the land and shifted the mud to the side. How can we use the land if it is not levelled? We only redistributed mud.
Does your holding this event set a precedent for the use of the floodplain for activities?
If that is the case, the government should not give the opportunity to anyone. They say there will be damage because of high footfall. I don’t agree. Festivals have been held for centuries on the banks of the Ganga.
To take the international community to a venue where there is only a gutter is a challenge in itself. This festival will also put pressure on the authorities to at least stop the 17 drains from emptying here.
No one protests when sewage is dumped but there are protests when we want to hold a festival.
What is the scale of the event?
The stage for the event is the largest to be built — at 7 acres, equivalent to 6 football grounds. 8,500 musicians will play 50 instruments. People from 155 countries are participating in the event, much higher than participation in Commonwealth Games.
Is there a traffic management plan in place?
We have been in regular touch with the police and 10,000 volunteers are working to make sure the routes are in place.
Any apprehensions about the NGT hearing?
No, we are completely relaxed.