At 3 PM Wednesday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was questioning the Art of Living (AOL) counsel on whether the foundation’s World Culture Festival starting March 11 on the Yamuna floodplains would damage the river’s ecosystem. At Ground Zero, it hardly mattered.
Here, with just 48 hours to go, it was all about music practice sessions, bomb detection dog squads, scurrying volunteers and the ceaseless clamour of tonnes of metal being hammered, welded, cut and assembled.
With the three entrances to the venue from the Delhi Noida Direct (DND) flyway barred for the public, a steady stream of buses made their way to the floodplains from another entry point next to the Mayur Vihar Phase 1 Metro station.
- Yamuna floodplain damage row: DDA at heart of Sri Sri Ravishankar’s AOL event controversy, says NGT
- Everything’s fine, says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, except the fine
- Will go to jail but not pay a penny: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on NGT fine
- Police send another letter to organisers of World Culture Festival: No barricades, no stability certificate
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar event gets NGT nod, Art of Living fined Rs 5 crore
- World culture festival: With NGT sword hanging, preparations for culture festival race to finish line
From here, a 5-km dirt track, cutting through contract farmland led to the venue. Watching the bulldozers, cars, motorcycles, buses and dump trucks going past were residents of at least unauthorised five hamlets on the way. “There’s some big function happening and big people are coming. They bulldozed through my farmland to make this track. They took away someone else’s land for two weeks to park their cars,” said Kishen, from Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, who has tilled land here for the last six years.
The Yamuna itself is a barrier of sorts for the vehicles. From the Noida Link road entrances, this is as far as one can drive. It’s another 2-km trek over pontoon bridges set up by the Army, through a baggage scanner, past washrooms and tents for the 10,000 artists to get to what AOL has dubbed “the world’s largest stage”.
They are not far from the mark. The stage is 1,200 feet long, 200 feet wide and 40 feet high. It dwarfs all around it, including life-sized elephant statues being assembled with telescopic cranes. There are even e-rickshaws hired daily to ferry musicians and artistes from one end of the venue to another.
In the middle of the stage, supervisors categorise and group the artistes according to the states they come from. At either end, workers are racing to complete the installation of the statues and arches.
“I am from Bathinda and was chosen to play at this festival last year. We are all staying in a hotel nearby and were called here for practice. It is a long walk, but it is for a good cause. I will do anything for Guruji,” said Dhiraj, a college student from Bathinda, carrying a Veena and a bag.
Wednesday was also the first music rehearsal but with delays in construction, the speaker systems were far from installed. “We had all the speakers and the equipment, but a lot of it could not be transported to the stage since the pontoon bridges were not completed. They have come now and we are working hard to ensure they are all up. As you can see, we have at least 200 men working just on this,” said an AOL volunteer.
If AOL was busy with the stage and sets, police and security personnel fussed over the baggage-scanning equipment, even bringing their own forklift to install the machines across the venue. “There are hundreds of VIPs from India and abroad expected. Maybe even some Cabinet ministers. This is mandatory,” said a Delhi Police staffer from the security unit.
Another team spent the day traversing the venue with a dog squad for bomb detection. A third team guarded the entry points on the DND flyway, from where VIPs will enter the venue.
Along the flyway, cars lined the barriers, with many clicking selfies with the 40-foot stage as a backdrop. It was evening now and six giant floodlights illuminated the venue. Below, the action continued into the night.