Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the Art of Living’s controversial cultural festival on the floodplain of Delhi’s Yamuna river as an environment court gave the organisers time till Friday to pay a Rs 5-crore fine.
Modi will inaugurate the three-day event on Friday, the Press Information Bureau announced after Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe pulled out because of security fears. President Pranab Mukherjee has already announced he won’t attend the event.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has cleared the festival despite fears of damage to the ecosystem, but has said it will appoint a committee to assess the environmental damage caused by it.
The “World Culture Festival”, organised by spiritual guru Ravi Shankar, spreads across 1,000 acres on the banks of the Yamuna. It features a 7-acre stage for 35,000 musicians and dancers, newly built dirt tracks and 650 portable toilets. Environment groups accuse organisers of ripping up vegetation and ruining the river’s fragile ecosystem by damaging its bed and disrupting water flows. They want authorities to cancel the event and avert further harm.
Shankar has said his organisation won’t pay the fine. “We have not done anything wrong...we will go to jail but not pay a penny,” he told NDTV. “This is like a cultural Olympics...normally, something like this should be welcomed,” he said, just hours before a hearing in India’s top green court at 4pm.