Environmental activists have conveyed their displeasure and opposition to The World Culture Festival of the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation headed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar which is to be held at the-the ecologically sensitive Yamuna floodplains. The festival if held could cause irreparable damage according to Environment activists. An enormous stage (about 1,200 feet long x 200 feet wide x 40 feet high) is being erected with steel pipes, wooden planks and fiberglass domes, where thousands of artists are expected to perform.
So how did the events unfold?
In early December 2015, some farmers informed activists and NGOs on the construction activities happening on the banks of River Yamuna. The issue was then taken up with DDA(Delhi Development Authority), Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung who is the chairman of DDA and the Chief Minister of Delhi.
The DDA permission approval is not in public domain and it was later known that Art of Living had been granted permission for the event on 21 December 2015.
Activists and NGOs tried to reach out to Sri Sri Ravi in vain and eventually reached out to the NGT (National Green Tribunal).
After the DDA forwarded the letter to Art Of Living, the activist met AOL representatives and even suggested alternative locations for the event.
By that time, AOL has not only cleared a large area of the floodplain of greenery and levelled it but is also dumped debris elsewhere in the riverbed, thus multiplying ecological damage to the Yamuna.
The construction activity by AOL is a blatant violation of several past orders of NGT specifically prohibiting any kind of temporary and permanent construction in the riverbed and floodplains.
What is it about the festival and what are the potential damages it could cause?
The report of a four-member committee of the NGT led by Shashi Shekhar, secretary, ministry of water resources, has found potential damages:
- The site is a meeting point of Barapullah drain and river Yamuna. It’ll get blocked.
- The floodplains where the Yamuna water gets recharged will get damaged.
- The natural life in this bio-diversity region will either move out or perish.
- The birds will leave the place.
- Have a cascading effect on nearby Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
- The entire area of the flood plain between river Yamuna and DND Flyover has been levelled.
- Small water bodies that existed earlier have been filled up and all natural vegetation has been removed.
- Almost all the trees have been removed.
- Construction debris dumped on some of the roads constructed along the river.
- The western side of the river — 50 to 60 hectares floodplain is completely destroyed; natural vegetation comprising reeds, shrubs, trees, etc has been completely removed. Large numbers of birds and other natural life on the floodplain have vanished.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has already recommended a fine of Rs 120 crore on them for violation of ecological norms but it has hardly deterred preparations. The three-day international event, which is expected to attract 35 lakh visitors from across the globe, begins from 11 March.
Sri Sri Ravi hits back
Sri Sri said has said credits should be given to The Art of Living for even choosing such a polluted place for a prestigious international event. He has also lauded his organisation to ready a place where once, one could not even breathe due to the stink. He has assured there wouldn’t be any ecological damage caused as feared by activists.
The Logical Indian is surprised that DDA had approved the event even though NGT guidelines do not allow such an event to occur. The lack of transparency in the whole issue is appalling. We appeal NGT and DDA to ensure such violations do not happen in the future and ensure the already deteriorated Yamuna river and flood plains is not exploited further for commercial reasons.