Two long pontoon bridges across the Yamuna, two smaller bridges on the Barapullah drain meet the eye. “The world’s largest stage” (about 1,200 ft long x 200 ft wide x 40 ft high), according to posters put up by organisers, is being erected with steel pipes, wooden planks and fiberglass domes, occupying 7 acres of land. The site is littered with construction material. On the western side of the river, 50 to 60 hectares of the floodplain bear signs of the work; the natural vegetation removed. A total of 650 toilets are placed on both sides of the river.
Boards near these toilets say, “eco enzymes”. All these structures occupy a recently levelled land mass between the Yamuna floodplains and the DND Flyway, almost 1000 acres. It is the site for Art of Living Foundation’s World Culture Festival. The event is apparently expected to host nearly 3.5 million people between March 11 and 13. Labourers at the site say they have been working till 2 am for the past two weeks.
Several entities, public and private are involved in the preparations. One of the pontoon bridges has been constructed by Public Works Department in Gautam Budh Nagar. Its length is nearly 400 metres, and estimated to have cost nearly Rs 4 crore. Engineer in Chief, PWD, A K Gupta confirmed his department had constructed one pontoon bridge for Art of Living function in Noida. “The request came from central government and state government constructed the bridge at its own expense,” said Gupta.
The second bridge has been constructed by the Indian Army. A detailed questionnaire was sent to the Indian Army. A response is still awaited.
Delhi PWD officials said no financial support was given by Delhi government to the structures being constructed on Yamuna floodplain. The organisers asked for few relaxations for removing barriers so that there would be more access points. “We asked them to submit a nominal fee with us and remove those temporary barricades. They have sought permission from us. But we have asked them to put the barricades back once the event is over. Out of five points from where the access would be given, three are on outer ring road and two are on ring road,” said a PWD official.
According to sources, police are doing the rounds of government offices to seek safety certificate for the mega structure constructed. “We cannot give the certificate as we have no role to play. They have been turned down by the CPWD as well,” said a source.
Petitioners against the event have stated it is a violation of the orders passed by the National Green Tribunal in January 2015. The order states that no construction will be allowed on the floodplains of the Yamuna.
In addition, they have stated that the proposed discharging of an enzyme that will allegedly clean the sewage that the event will release has been proposed without the permission of the State Pollution Control Board.
An expert committee appointed by the green tribunal has said in its report the floodplains where the Yamuna water gets recharged will get damaged, natural life in this bio-diversity region will either move out or perish, nearby Okhla Bird Sanctuary will be adversely affected.”
The Art of Living Foundation, meanwhile, has said they are doing everything with the permission of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The foundation has said, “We have only used materials like mud, wood cloth and scaffolding to build the bridge.”
They have also stated that the land was already damaged and free of most natural vegetation prior to their preparations. A spokesperson for the foundation said, “The floodplains have been deteriorating for many years, we have taken all precautionary measures in compliance with the guidelines laid out by the DDA. AOL has done a lot of the work for the environment and we are celebrating 35 years of service to society.”