Opposition parties cornered the government in the Rajya Sabha on the World Culture Festival organised by the Art of Living Foundation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, describing the construction on the Yamuna floodplains as “destruction unseen in history”.
Proceedings were disrupted throughout Zero Hour even as the government claimed that all permissions had been taken for the event. The government’s defence failed to cut ice with the Opposition, and MPs from the JD(U), Congress and Left parties shouted slogans, some of them from the well of the House.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley questioned how the chair could allow a matter that was subjudice. “If a matter is pending before any tribunal (National Green Tribunal in this case), it cannot be raised here. How is the chair even allowing this? The rules are clear on this,” he said, quoting a rule of business procedure. However, the Opposition continued targeting the government. It was only after a token two-minute adjournment that order was restored during Question Hour.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav and Congress MP M S Gill had submitted Zero Hour notices on the matter. Yadav, in fact, had also submitted a 267 notice for suspension of business but that was not found to be in order, so he was allowed the mandatory three-minute Zero Hour speech which is usually overshot.
Terming the construction of a temporary structure on the Yamuna floodplains as “destruction unseen in history”, Yadav said the NGT had earlier given orders disallowing construction activity on the ecologically fragile zone and the DDA had cancelled permission twice. He wanted to know “under what pressure was the Indian Army deployed to build a pontoon bridge for one person”. Demanding immediate stoppage of construction, he said, “What function is he (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) doing? Kya tamasha kar raha hai (what drama is he doing)?”
CPM MP Sitaram Yechury asked, “Can the Indian Army be roped in to assist a private function… it is highly irregular for the Army to be called in to create facilities for a private function.”
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Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi put up a spirited defence of the spiritual leader, recounting his “record” in undertaking river conservation measures. “His intentions cannot be doubted. There is nothing that is happening without permission. As for the Army, if there is a security situation the Army will be deployed regardless of whether it is a private or a public function,” Naqvi told the House. His words fell on deaf ears.
When Deputy Chairman P J Kurien attempted to limit leader of opposition Azad’s time, Azad retorted: “Do not try to make rules. Whoever gives a Zero Hour notice gets to speak for three minutes.”
Azad started with the government’s claims of being a “champion” of the environment in the aftermath of the Paris climate agreement, and asked how it could allow a big structure to be built on the Yamuna bank with diesel generators and car parking, when the NGT had said that construction on the site should be deemed a criminal offence. Gill said the precedent of bringing in the Army should now be deployed for ‘jalsas’ of Sikh sects and other religious events. He also referred to the construction of the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna floodplain.