The National Green Tribunal was hearing a petition asking for the cancellation of the World Culture festival, being organised by the Art of Living Foundation, on the grounds that the festival upsets the ecologically-fragile Yamuna floodplains.
To be held from March 11-13, the three-day event is set to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will have the organisation’s founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in attendance, aside from other spiritual guest speakers.
The event is expected to see a gathering of 35 lakh people, and has a venue spread over an area of 1,000-odd acres.
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.
Activists argued that preparations for the event forced birds to migrate from the area. The floodplains have been flattened, destroying birds’ nesting sites and choking the polluted Yamuna with construction debris, they added.
Art of living council tells the National Green Tribunal that it will seek permission for the fire department in a day or two -- an admission that may be controversial given the festival is scheduled for Friday.
Sri Sri’s lawyers say buses ferrying people to the festival will be parked at the government’s Millennium Bus Depot, but the transport department hasn’t given them permission yet.
The hearing is adjourned to Wednesday and a verdict is expected before lunch.
The stage being constructed at the river banks has been causing the controversy, given its extent. Organisers are also constructing a pontoon bridge, but the Delhi government argued that it had given permission for its construction only in case of a flood.
The large stage, estimated to be covering about 7 acres, will face the plains where around 35 lakh people are expected, as publicised by the Art of Living foundation (AOL). However, the organisation’s lawyers told the NGT that only about 2-3 lakh people will attend the event. The tribunal countered the argument with the discrepancy in numbers.
Organisers are yet to receive several clearances for conducting the event. The fire department alleged that despite several reminders, organisers failed to supply the required information for granting the permit. Lawyers representing the AOL said the organisers were going to do so after construction of the stage was completed.
Taking exception to the various arguments, the NGT questioned if any of the parties involved had considered the impact of the festival on the Yamuna river, the floodplains and the eco-systems around it. Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had earlier contested the activists’ claims that the event was damaging the biodiversity in the area; he stated the organisation was not polluting the river.
The NGT questioned the Uttar Pradesh government’s counsel over sanctions granted for using the Yamuna floodplains as a temporary parking area. The tribunal was reacting to the lawyer’s observation that the government had authority to do so only during the non-monsoon season.
DDA denied there being any debris on the floodplain and hence questioned the necessity for levelling the floodplains. The NGT rebutted the argument questioning whether the AOL foundation brought the debris, and if so, what was the DDA response team doing.
Counsel for the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) raised questions about the activists’ motive, citing that the petition could’ve been filed much earlier than just a few days before the event.
The three-day extravaganza is slated to kick-off on Friday in east Delhi.
In its report, an NGT-appointed panel said it was too late to scrap the cultural and spiritual meet, and instead suggested a fine of Rs 120 crore to restore the floodplains.
10:30 am DDA only granted conditional permission, clueless about event size
On March 3, DDA had submitted that it had granted conditional permission for organising the event and had no idea about the magnitude of the programme.
The DDA had denied the suggestion that it had provided 3.5 hectare of land for a parking lot on the banks of the river and said it had only provided over 20 hectares for the recreational programme.
Other clearances for the event, including safety and traffic, are yet to be given.
The NGT is also hearing a plea against the foundation’s plan to release ‘enzymes’ into 17 drains joining Yamuna for cleaning the river.
Earlier, the green panel had issued notices to the Delhi government, DDA and Art of Living Foundation on another plea seeking stoppage of ongoing construction on the flood plains. It had also constituted an expert committee headed by Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar to inspect the site of the proposed festival.
10:00 am Watch: Army builds pontoon bridge on Yamuna for Sri Sri festival
WATCH: Army personnel construct pontoon bridge in Delhi for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival.https://t.co/cOSTHAPC8R— ANI (@ANI_news) March 8, 2016
Meanwhile, the Indian Army, which has built a pontoon bridge on the Yamuna for the festival, is likely to build one more to ease movement of a large number of people expected to attend the controversy-ridden mega event.
The Art of Living foundation, which is organising the function, will have yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers by Sanskrit scholars and traditional cultural performances from India and abroad.
9: 30 am President not to attend Sri Sri’s event in Delhi
President Pranab Mukherjee will not attend a festival being organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living in the wake of the controversy over holding the three-day cultural function on the Yamuna flood plains beginning this Friday.
The president had earlier agreed to attend the opening ceremony of the three-day event here on March 11 along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. More than 35 lakh people are expected to attend the event.
The Art of Living along with the Delhi Development Authority is facing in the National Green Tribunal a case of alleged violation of environmental laws and polluting the Yamuna river. The NGT is expected to deliver the verdict in the case later this week.
According to some estimates, about 35,000 people will attend a musical evening as part of the larger event on the bank of Yamuna in the national capital.