In the midst of two opulent wedding stages, a glasshouse with flowers from Switzerland, and snow-peaked mountains in the backdrop in Uttarakhand’s Auli, all that Anil Kumar has looked at is waste – petals, plastic covers, foam, and leftover food. He’s one of the two supervisors of the Nagar Palika Parishad of Joshimath, manning a team of 20 men responsible for keeping the Rs 200 crore wedding venue at the alpine meadow clean.
“Usually, dry and wet waste collected daily from all of Joshimath amounts to 20 quintal. Since the weddings, it’s crossed 40 quintal daily. Most of it is from the wedding venue,” said Parishad chairman Shailendra Singh Pawar.
The weddings in question are of Suryakant and Shashank – members of the controversial Gupta family of South Africa, known for their dubious links to that country’s former president, Jacob Zuma, and who are facing corruption charges. Suryakant got married on Thursday, while Shashank’s wedding was on Saturday.
A few kilometres from Auli is village Ravigram, where a huge portion of land has been turned into a temporary helipad. Following Suryakant’s marriage, the Guptas left for Badrinath on Friday morning via choppers that took off and landed every few minutes.
Keeping Auli clean during the weddings has been an uphill task. Pawar has deployed 20 workers, two supervisors, one junior engineer at the wedding venue in Auli, and an additional 10 workers across Auli till June 30.
“Usually, only four workers are needed across Auli as it’s not very populated and doesn’t get so many tourists,” said Pawar. Three safai vehicles too have been set aside for the venue, which comprises Hotel Cliff Top, a private helipad and an artificial lake. On June 17, the Uttarakhand High Court came down heavily on the state government for allowing the extravagant wedding to take place in the ecologically fragile area. The court order, dated June 18, calls for the “prohibition of use of plastic, thermocol bags, glasses, plates, cups, saucers”.
However, a worker at the wedding told The Indian Express, “There’s so much plastic here, all the food and other goods that have come from Delhi or around have come wrapped in plastic sheets. The wind makes it harder to control the plastic… it keeps flying away. It’s distressing.”
For locals too, the worry is the plastic which their cows might consume. “My cows graze in the area… they will eat that plastic now like city cows,” said a local who lives in a village a few killometres from the wedding venue.
Chamoli District Magistrate Swati Bhadoriya has created a team of 13 officials from across departments to ensure that court directions are followed. She told The Indian Express, “Apart from the Parishad, two monitoring assistants from the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board are here to ensure there’s no noise or air pollution. The PWD officials at the venue have to make sure that JCBs are not used on the grasslands. Forest officials, the Hydel department and tehsildars too are a part of the team.”
On Saturday, hundreds of locals from surrounding villages thronged the venue to watch the wedding. “It’s one-of-a-kind event but once they leave, who’ll clean up the mess? They’ve turned the hill into a city,” said Durga Devi (55), who came from village Parsari. Bhadoriya will chair a meeting with the 13 officials on June 25 to assess violations and impact of the weddings on Auli. She said a log is being maintained daily of all that has been used by the event management company through the course of the wedding.
S P Subudhi, member secretary of Uttarakhand’s Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board, said, “We told the Court that soak pits and septic tanks should be built wherever toilets are being made for the guests or staff. We’ve sent a team to assess noise and air pollution… they’re at the venue with noise-meters, and keeping a tab on PM 10, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide levels in Auli…”
Interestingly, a ten-member search-and-rescue team too has been posted at the wedding venue. Anil Saknani (42), the safety in-charge, said, “We are a part of the Adventure Welfare Guide Society and are based in Dehradun. We are here in case a landslide, earthquake or fire erupts. We are staying at the venue, and have come equipped with five fire extinguishers, ropes, first-aid, stretchers, walks-talky sets. Nothing has happened so far though.”