NEW DELHI: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi clambered onstage to declare the Art of Living’s World Cultural Festival open on Friday, only a handful of people knew that the stage had received its security clearance just 24 hours earlier—despite the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) having allocated the land for the event in June 2015.
The authorities say though the DDA had given Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s foundation the nod over eight months ago, they were not aware of the scale of the event as the organisers had not obtained any safety, fire, structural or environment clearance. A senior police officer said that the organisers had promised to get all the clearances 20 days ago but did not do so.
It was only when the Special Protection Group along with Intelligence Bureau (IB) officers went to inspect the site, after learning that President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries were expected to attend, that they discovered that the organisers were planning to hold the event across 1,000 acres and were constructing a stage sized 1,200 feet long, 200 feet wide and 40 feet high. The IB immediately informed the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Special Commissioner of Police (Security) and Military Secretary to the President about the shortcomings.
On March 4, Central Public Works Department (CPWD) wrote to the PM’s security wing and Commissioner of Police Alok Kumar Verma about the “unsafe condition” of the stage’s structural arrangement. On March 7, the organisers replied through a company, Delhi Tent Decorators, which was erecting the stage. They acknowledged the flaws and promised to take action, particularly on stability of the structure in the event of high speed winds.
On March 9, CPWD special director general Upendra Malik again wrote to the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the PM’s security, listing four counts on which the supporting structure of the stage failed to meet the standards set by BIS. Since the tent company had no expertise on structural design safety issues and BIS standards, the organisers hired Delhi firm Vintech Consultants to do a quick analysis and make the changes required to the stage. Vintech did so, and got the structural safety certificate from Delhi Police on March 10.
- June 30, 2015: DDA gives permission to hold the event at Yamuna banks
- March 4, 2016: CPWD writes to SPG (PM’s security) about unsafe condition of the structural arrangement for temporary stage. MHA says no to additional police force
- March 7: Intelligence Bureau writes to Delhi Police and PM security about lack of safety measures. MHA does a U-turn, approves five battalions of paramilitary forces
- March 8: Structural analysis data provided to CPWD by a private consultant hired at last moment
- March 9: CPWD special director general Upendra Malik writes to Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the PM’s security stating that the supporting structure of the stage fails to meet standards.
- March 10: After making major structural changes, the structural safety certificate is given to Delhi Police by Vintech Consultants.
- March 10: Joint Secretary MHA, worried about contingency plans, writes to Delhi Police chief to deploy emergency responders at the venue
Though the DDA had allocated the land for AOL’s World Cultural Festival in June 2015, it was only at the last moment that the organisers and Delhi authorities seemed to have woken up to the need for stringent safety and security arrangements at the venue. A senior police officer told The Sunday Standard that the organisers, after seeking approval, had given a detailed layout plan of the venue and promised to get all the clearances at least 20 days before the event but did not do so. “They had stated that they would construct 10 pontoon bridges but they could only manage to make one,” the officer said.
Eventually the land was allocated on June 30, 2015, but the authorities were not aware about the size of the event.
Documents shows that the organiser informed Delhi Police in December and then Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi gave permission to hold the function in February this year. “We never imagined that this was going to be nightmare,” said a police officer. There was no coordination, no safety, fire, structural, environment clearance obtained by the organisers. They were organising the event on 1,000 acres of land and were constructing a 1,200 feet long x 200 feet wide x 40 feet high stage.
Just a day before the event, The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had to step in with 200 emergency responders for stampede evacuation and medical emergency.
Worried about the contingency plans, MHA’s Joint Secretary Hitesh Kumar S Makwana wrote to Delhi Police Chief on March 10 to deploy boats in the Yamuna.
Glaring Loopholes In Security Audit
As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had invited President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top dignitaries, security agencies visited the venue for a security audit. When the SPG and IB officers visited the venue they were astonished. IB informed Makwana , Special Commissioner of Police (Security) and Military Secretary to the President about the shortcomings of the event.
IB suggested that in case of a medical contingency, the evacuation drill may be planned in such a manner that earmarked gates on DND sides is used for evacuation.
Worry For PM
The biggest shock came after the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) engineers inspected the venue. CPWD, in a missive to PM security wing and Commissioner of Police on March 4, gave a detailed report certifying “unsafe condition” of the structural arrangement for temporary stage. CPWD followed this up with another letter on March 6. The following day, the organisers acknowledged all the flaws and promised to take action on all the counts, particularly safety and stability of the temporary structure in the event of high speed winds.
But on March 9, CPWD special director general Upendra Malik again wrote to the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the Prime Minister’s security, listing four counts on which the supporting structure of the stage failed to meet the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. It said no ground preparation or compaction had been done for ensuring leveled ground for supporting the structure. Second, the size of the base plates used was inadequate, which would result in excessive pressure on soil below. Third, splice joints had not been staggered creating weak links in vertical columns at same levels. Fourth, corroded and worn-out pipes had been used in erecting the whole structure, it said.
Finally, the organisers took action. They contacted a city-based firm, Vintech Consultants to do a quick structural analysis of the mega stage. Vintech made the desired structural changes and got the structural safety certificate from Delhi Police on March 10.
Private or Public Event?
Another controversy hit when initially MHA initially declined the Delhi Police from providing extra force to manage the event on March 4. But, when MHA realised last week that they event venue is venerable to terror threats, they provided 4,000 paramilitary personnel on March 7. In total 14,000 police personnel provided security, maintain law and order and traffic at the venue.
Delhi Traffic Police had suggested that the event will create chaos and traffic will be standstill. “The venue selected is located at the main ring road where during peak hours vehicles crawl. We raised objection but the organisers did not give any heed,” said a police officer.
A Cult of Culture
The three-day World Culture Festival celebrating 35 years of Art of Living (AoL) Foundation that kick-started on Friday on the banks of the Yamuna, was inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi. As the gates were thrown open, so did the gates of controversy unlock, with NGT slapping a fine of `5 crore on AoL for not taking permission for the event from the tribunal in time.
WHO IS SRI SRI?
Spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, also known as ‘Sri Sri’, is the founder of the Art of Living Foundation. His humanitarian works have received international acclamations, and he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan last January.
The festival ground being the flood plains of the river Yamuna
attracted the notice from the NGT ordering a Rs 5 crore fine for the alleged destruction of the fragile ecosystem. In its order, NGT noted that the Rs 5 crore is not penalty but environment compensation. NGT said that the floodplains had been damaged in the preparations for the festival, but the Art of Living Foundation has maintained that it hasn’t done anything wrong.
“We will go to jail but will not pay the fine,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
- President Pranab Mukherjee, who was expected to take part in the event on Sunday, decided to pull out as a controversy raged over the three-day function.
- Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe flew all the way to India to attend the event but took the next plane back home, citing ‘inadequate security’.
- No cover from rain. Crowd had to scurry for cover from heavy torrents during the inaugural function.
- The venue turned into muck and slush with water logging, making the already uneven ground a difficult path.
155 countries represented in the festival
- 5,000 police personnel overlook security 1.5 lakh visitors over three days
- 30,000 performers and artistes to entertain the public
- 1,700 Kathak artistes choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj, 1,700 artist Bharatnatyam performers horeographed by Padmini Suraja Vaidyanathan participated
- Rs 25.63 crore (including decoration cost of `10 crore) spent in organising the event
- 8,500 of the Art of Living’s Grand Orchestra, 108 Dangri Dol artistes from Maharashtra and 600 Mrigandam players from the state participated on Day 1