With three days to go for the Art of Living Foundation’s World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains, petitioners continue to fight for the cancellation of the event. The issue will be heard again Wednesday by the National Green Tribunal.
A press conference called by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, which was to be held at 5 pm Tuesday, was abruptly cancelled. The Art of Living Foundation gave no reason for the cancellation and said it would “revert with the next schedule soon”.
Ravi Shankar has repeatedly denounced claims that the event will harm the Yamuna and has stated that it is being conducted on land that was already damaged. The environmental impact on the floodplains and who is to take responsibility for it is still unclear. However, the earlier expert committee constituted by the NGT had recommended a fine of Rs 120 crore on the foundation for the negative impacts of the construction on the floodplains.
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According to Professor Gosain of IIT-Delhi (member of the first inspection team), “The damage to the floodplains is very clear and visible.
This land is ecologically sensitive and it serves the function of recharging groundwater, which will be affected by an event of such a scale.” Professor Gosain’s report was submitted to the Tribunal, pointing out serious environmental damage. On the very same day, a report by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had given the event a clean chit. Noting the discrepancy between the two reports, the NGT constituted a committee led by Shashi Shekhar and comprising professors A K Gosain, Brij Gopal and C R Babu.
The team visited the spot and made similar submissions on February 20. An inspection team from the Ministry for Environment and Forests also conducted a spot report and made its submissions before the Tribunal on February 24.The report by the MoEF, however, noted that the constructions were in a late stage and, therefore, made recommendations to curtail the impact of the event. The two reports submitted to the Tribunal noted a series of issues:
-The entire area of the floodplain between the Yamuna and the DND Flyover has been levelled. Small water bodies that existed earlier have been filled up and all natural vegetation has been removed.
– Most of the trees have been removed or lopped off.
– Construction debris has been dumped on some of the roads constructed along the river margin for the festival.
– Two ramps joining the DND flyover with the floodplains to provide access to VIPs up to the stage have also constructed on the floodplains.
– One pontoon bridge has been constructed on the river Yamuna and another under-construction (now constructed). Few more are proposed on the Yamuna and Barapullah drain (a total of five). n Parking sites and 650 portable toilets will come up on both eastern and western sides of the river. Thousands of vehicles are expected to be parked.
– 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 fibre glass domes, where thousands of artistes are expected to perform.
– On the western side of the river, 50 to 60 hectares of the floodplain have been completely destroyed, natural vegetation comprising reeds, shrubs, trees, completely removed. Large numbers of birds and other natural life on the floodplain have vanished.
– The reports have also stated this could be the result of blocking the meeting point of Barapullah drain and the Yamuna. The natural life in this region will either move out or perish and adversely effect the nearby Okhla Bird Sanctuary.