The Rashtrapati Bhavan confirmed Monday that President Pranab Mukherjee will not attend the World Culture Festival of the Art of Living Foundation in New Delhi later this week.
The March 11-13 event, which organisers claim will be attended by 3.5 million people, has stoked a controversy because it is being organised on the floodplains of the Yamuna and there are concerns that it will cause permanent environmental damage.
The President’s office did not say why Mukherjee, who was to preside over the valedictory function, had opted out.
The National Green Tribunal, which has been approached by two persons to stop the event, did not meet Monday because of the Shivratri holiday. A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar is expected to deliver its verdict Tuesday.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar declined comment on the likely damage to the floodplains, saying the matter is sub-judice.
The Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, also declined comment on the President’s decision to skip the event. It has been maintaining that the event will not cause any damage to the floodplains since no permanent construction has been done.
A huge 7-acre stage has been built on the Yamuna riverbed, and tents are being erected for the three-day event.
A large number of temporary constructions, including dirt tracks from the road to the venue, are also coming up. The event is being organised to mark the 35th anniversary of the Art of Living and is being billed as the “biggest ever festival of music and dance”.
A number of serving and former heads of states, ministers, lawmakers and celebrities from different countries are also scheduled to attend the event, according to the Art of Living website. These include Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Vice-President of European Parliament Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice-President of Suriname Michael A Adhin, former Prime Minister of France Dominique de Villepin, and former Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Advertisements say 35,973 artists will perform at the event. Former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti is listed as the chairperson of the ‘reception committee’.