The expert panel constituted by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has told us something that most people knew in the first place – that the Yamuna floodplain would suffer extensive damage if a mega event like the one Art of Living conducted was permitted. Now to add insult to injury, AOL has asked that the panel be reconstituted in what is clearly a stalling operation. The mega event, which was supposed to foster global harmony and put India higher up on the spiritual map, was by all accounts, not very well managed and for days on end, the floodplains were awash with garbage left behind by the attendees.
The authorities seemed to have bent over backwards, even commandeering the army’s services to build pontoon bridges at the venue, to help AOL. While AOL fights a holding action, it must be asked why permission was granted for the event in the first place. Experts and environmentalists had clearly stated that allowing this meet was unwise and that AOL’s claims that its clean-up drive after the event would regenerate the floodplain was not based on facts. The Yamuna is a river under grave threat from pollutants and encroachments. To add to this, the fragile floodplain had to bear the pressure of the construction of structures to host the event and in some areas, the alleged blocking of the river.
In the end, many of the luminaries from abroad who were supposed to attend the event cried off after it became mired in controversy. A similar event had taken place years ago, when the riverbed adjoining the Taj was given out for a music concert by the composer Yanni. Then too environmentalists had opposed this as not only would the event threaten the river bank but also the large crowds and generators would affect the Taj itself. However, the event was held. If private parties like AOL or others want to host mega events, there are enough sites across the country which are not ecologically fragile or are heritage sites in which these can be held. And they should be charged commercial rates for this. In the AOL event, the fact that many politicians attended the meet seemed to give it official sanction, something it seems to be cashing in on, given the manner in which it is seeking changes in the expert panel and quibbling about the compensation it was meant to pay. There should be a blanket ban on the use of such sites for any event. The AOL fiasco should serve as a deterrent and permission should not be given in the first place for these. The damage to the floodplain must now be addressed and efforts made to reverse some of it if possible.