Art of Living gets go ahead for Yamuna bank event, fined Rs 5 crore

  • Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 09, 2016 19:21 IST
Newly constructed buildings at Yamuna River belt. (Ravi Choudhary/HT)

The National Green Tribunal cleared on Wednesday a mega cultural event on the Yamuna floodplain in Delhi despite fears of irreparable damage to the area’s delicate ecosystem.

The green court said spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation will pay a fine of Rs 5 crore before the three-day World Culture Festival opened on Friday.

The rest of the fine amount will be decided after a NGT-appointed committee assesses the damage to the floodplain.

The order came on a day the controversial event rocked Parliament, with opposition parties demanding the government scrap the festival as it violated an NGT order prohibiting construction on the Yamuna floodplain.

“In the history of Hindustan such a destructive game has never been played upon Delhi. Who are these people?.... This drama should stop...this will destroy Yamuna,” Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav said amid slogan shouting by opposition members.

The NGT imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the DDA for granting “vague permissions” and one lakh on the Delhi Pollution Board.

“DDA ought to have applied its mind before granting permission,” the NGT said, barring the DDA from green-lighting such events in the future.

In Parliament, Yadav questioned the government’s move to divert the army to erect pontoon bridges at the event site. “He (Ravi Shankar) is one person and you have deployed the country’s army there to erect bridges. It can’t go on like this.”

HT has reported extensively on the damage and violation of construction norms by the organisers who have cleared more than 1,000 acres for the festival to be attended by over a million people.

The Art of Living Foundation has said the event will not cause any ecological damage with Ravi Shankar calling the petition to block the event politically motivated. But the organisers have admitted they are yet to get permissions from the city fire service, police as well as the transport department for parking vehicles at the Millennium Bus Depot.

Read | Don’t politicise cultural festival: Sri Sri appeals to political parties

President Pranab Mukherjee has already pulled out of the event that is to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will feature yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers and cultural performances.

But the JD(U), Communist Party of India and Congress weren’t impressed, with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury calling the move to deploy the army “highly irregular.”

“You please tell me whether the Indian army can be roped in to assist a private function. ...I think it is highly irregular that the Army is summoned to create facilities for a private function.”

Read | Oppn targets BJP over Sri Sri’s Yamuna event, questions use of army

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also attacked the government.

“The minister of environment of this very government went to Paris with a big pomp and show....But what is happening in the National Capital of this country? NGT has in January 2015 issued an order that all construction activities on the Yamuna bank would be deemed criminal.”

But the BJP defended the mega cultural extravaganza, saying Ravi Shankar had followed all norms.

“He is committed to the cause of environment. Let’s not doubt his intentions. Whatever event is happening is as per law,” junior parliamentary affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

Read | Sri Sri event a slap in face for green laws, PM shouldn’t attend: Cong

AAP says it gave nod to Sri Sri for bridge in event of flood only

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