A high-profile controversial event planned on Delhi’s eco-sensitive Yamuna floodplain appeared uncertain on Tuesday after the national green tribunal asked the Centre to explain why the organisers weren’t asked to get an environmental clearance.
The organisers of the World Culture Festival, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s the Art of Living Foundation, admitted before the green court that with three days to go, no fire department or transport department permissions had been obtained.
The NGT adjourned the matter until Wednesday, when a verdict is expected.
The developments came a day after President Pranab Mukherjee pulled out of the three-day cultural extravaganza in east Delhi that is under fire for flattening the floodplain, destroying birds’ nesting sites and choking the polluted Yamuna with construction debris.
“You (ministry of environment and forests) file an affidavit by tomorrow and tell us why no environmental clearance is needed for raising temporary structures in flood plains,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Swantanter Kumar said.
The direction came after environment ministry counsel said they found no debris at the site, when an expert team had visited and as per the Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006, no environment clearance is needed for temporary structures.
The green panel also questioned the controversial building of a pontoon bridge over the Yamuna by the army and asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel who gave the permission for setting it up.
Organisers have cleared over 1,000 acres of land for the festival that opens on Friday to mark the 35th anniversary of the Art of Living Foundation.
The organisers told the NGT they did not conduct any environment impact study as the environment ministry didn’t ask for it.
“Has any authority concerned considered the impact of the ArtofLiving festival on river, biodiversity?” Kumar asked.
The foundation also said it expected 200,000-300,000 people to turn up, contradicting its own promotional material that said 3.5 million people were to attend the festival. It said buses meant to ferry people to the event would be housed at the millennium bus depot but admitted the transport department’s permission hadn’t been sought yet.
The fire department’s permission would be sought in a day or two, it added – barely any time before the event opened on Friday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the festival where cultural performances, spiritual talk and yoga and meditation sessions will be held over three days.
Though Modi’s has confirmed his schedule, sources said his office was “aware of the controversies” and was “keeping a track of the developments”.
Construction is banned in the eco-fragile area, but a stage spread over seven acres has come up on the west bank of the Yamuna along with several other temporary structures, including pontoon bridges.
HT wrote about bulldozers and other heavy machinery being used to level the ground for chairs and carpets and pitching tents. Crops were damaged as farmers were asked to clear fields to cut roads.
“The floodplain has been completely destroyed; the natural vegetation consisting to reeds, and trees has been completely removed,” a panel told NGT.
Dismissing the NGT report as biased, Ravi Shankar said not a tree was cut and he would have received a red-carpet welcome in any other country for holding such an event.
The spiritual guru, who has a worldwide following, denied that the floodplain was destroyed and said it was an eco-friendly function.
(With inputs from agencies)