The Indian Army was directed by the defence ministry to build floating bridges for Art of Living’s upcoming event on the Yamuna floodplain after the Delhi Police expressed fears of a stampede at the venue, ministry and army officials said Tuesday.
The army’s effort to build two pontoon bridges have come under criticism amid growing opposition to the March 11 event that critics say will damage the eco-sensitive Yamuna floodplain. Organisers of the event expect 35 lakh visitors from across the country to show up at the three-day festival. The number of concurrent visitors at any time is estimated to range from 2 to 3 lakh.
Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s AOL Foundation hasn’t had to pay anything for the construction of the bridges because the army doesn’t have a policy of charging a fee for such help, which it usually extends at times of natural disasters.
The Art of Living had approached the army to set up six pontoon bridges across the river to the floodplain, but the force was reluctant, said an Indian army official who didn’t want to be named because sensitive nature of the issue.
It agreed to build a couple after receiving a directive from the defence ministry, where officials defended the decision citing concerns around public safety.
The construction of the bridges has been criticised on the ground that the army was being pressed into facilitating what is seen as an event organized in violation of public rules and regulations.
Following the public outcry, defence minister Manohar Parrikar is reported to have asked his ministry to put together a policy for the army’s involvement in such events.