NEW DELHI: In the wake of a controversy over the three-day cultural festival of Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the ecologically sensitive flood plains of the river Yamuna in Delhi, President Pranab Mukherjee has declined to attend the event.
The three-day ‘cultural’ event has environmentalists up in arms on the grounds that the precious ecosystem of the Yamuna and its flood plains would be further damaged by such large-scale activity.
About 3.5 million people are expected to be on the river banks. The programme is to be opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and concluded by the President.
The Army has spent more than a week building two bridges which will float on the river Yamuna for the event. Though the Army personnel have expressed their reservations, Government sources say that the Art of Living will be billed for the bridges. Apart from the ecological disturbances and security concerns, what has created the controversy is a petition by environmentalists before the National Green Tribunal. The experts have objected to the organisers’ decision to drop enzymes — hitherto untested — in drains flowing into the Yamuna, as an initiative to clean up the polluted waters of the river. The petition claimed that the ‘enzymes’ the organisers plan to drop into the 17 drains that flow into the Yamuna “are foreign elements” which have never been “scientifically tested”. The green tribunal judgment on the matter is expected Tuesday.
However, on Monday, the President communicated his inability to attend the ‘cultural festival’. A Rashtrapati Bhawan communiqué said: “The President cannot attend the function due to unavoidable circumstances.” Mukherjee was scheduled to address the valedictory session on Sunday.
Beginning Friday, March 11, the three-day event will be held on the west bank of Yamuna to celebrate 35 years of The Art of Living foundation.
“This proposed activity would be in blatant violation of the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, since it is, basically, introducing foreign elements into the river, without any scientific study or information,” the Green Tribunal petition said.
Earlier, the green panel had issued notices to the Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority and Art of Living Foundation on another plea seeking stoppage of ongoing construction work 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.
Sri Sri’s Art of Living foundation, however, has denied there will be any permanent damage to the flood plains. “We have used only eco-friendly material like wood, mud, cloth, and scaffolding towards building a temporary stage,” the foundation said in a statement.
Talking to the media, Sri Sri said that Art of Living deserved a red-carpet and not brickbats for organising the programme — essentially a spiritual quest through yoga and meditation and cultural programmes by people around the world.