The three-day world culture festival being organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation (AOL) has been embroiled in a huge controversy for allegedly damaging a vast stretch of Yamuna’s floodplains in New Delhi. 

Source: b'Source: Facebook'

ScoopWhoop spoke to the activist Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan on whose recommendation NGT set up the committee to look into this matter and also to an Art of Living spokesperson to understand the whole hue and cry over the situation which has escalated into a legal battle.

While Misra is vehemently protesting against the event, he also raised important questions about Delhi Development Authority, which had granted Art of Living to hold it in the first place. He says, "How could the same DDA obligated by NGT judgment to protect the river Yamuna approve such a private celebratory event at its banks?"

We asked him a few questions to get a better understanding of the matter.

On how the whole issue spanned out

Source: b'Preparations are underway for the 35th anniversary celebrations of the spiritual organisation.\xc2\xa0The three-day cultural festival will see 35,000 musicians perform simultaneously on a seven-acre stage/Source: Twitter'

When did you get to know that Art Of Living is undertaking these construction activities and what action did you take regarding this matter?

In early December 2015, actually some local farmers informed me about the construction activities happening at the Yamuna bank, so we wrote to the DDA and to Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung who is the chairman of DDA on December 11, 2015 to bring this matter to light.The copies of the letter were marked to various agencies including Vice Chairman of the DDA  and the Chief Minister of Delhi. But they didn't respond. Since the list of DDA permission approval is not in public domain, it was after some days I got to know that Art of Living had been granted permission for the event on 21 December, 2015. 

So, I took charge of the matter and we sent the first letter directly to Sri Sri on 7th Jan, 2016. Getting no response, we sent another letter on 22nd January and then on 8th February.  After exhausting all these executive avenues and getting no response we went to NGT and pleaded them to uphold their own judgment.

Did Sri Sri Ravishankar or any member of AOL come forward and try to approach you after this? What was their stand regarding the issue?

There was no answer from Ravishankar. But, I had got a phone call from one of his members in December after DDA forwarded our letter to Art of Living . He insisted on meeting me to talk about the objections I raised. The meeting continued for two hours during which he tried to convince me that none of their construction activities will hamper the river, but I was firm on my stand. I even showed him on Google maps some nearby locations in Noida and Greater Noida which would be feasible for the event and he said he will convey the suggestion to his team. 

Over the alleged threat to the ever shrinking Delhi's Yamuna floodplains

Source: b'Rampant pollution in the river Yamuna/Source: PTI'

How have the reconstruction activities and commercialization of its floodplains affected Yamuna?

For constructions required for the event, the entire flood plains have been cleared, the entire area has been devastated and the vegetation removed. Prior to the construction, it was all wonderful marshy area with grasslands, birds, reptiles and lot of biodiversity was present there. It has all been destroyed today. The site is a meeting point of Barapullah drain and river Yamuna and it will get blocked. 

Meanwhile, the spokesperson negated this saying, "The Art of Living has a huge regard for the environment. We have never violated nor do we have any intention to violate any laws of the country. The Art of Living in strict adherence to the NGT direction has not done any construction/concretization at the World Culture festival site. Further we have used only eco-friendly material like wood, mud, cloth, and scaffolding towards building a temporary stage for the purpose of holding a three-day festival. Even the ramps made at the venue are only temporary and made of mud involving ZERO concrete."

If in case, this event and more such activities get a go-ahead, what will be the long term effects of it?

It will take decades of restoration to bring Yamuna to its original state. There is no excuse for activities as because it is an illegal activity and has to be stopped. Just imagine so many people congregating at the banks of Yamuna will do to the river. It's like 'raping' the Yamuna river. All the previous rejuvenation activities will go in vain.

Over the choice of Yamuna for the World Culture festival

Source: b'The event is expected to attract 35 lakh visitors from across the globe/Source: Twitter'

When asked about the choice of Yamuna for this event, the Art of Living spokesperson said, "The entire event revolves around the river Yamuna by creating awareness among the people of the importance of the river so that it is not further polluted."

We asked Manoj Misra what he had to say about this? 

These are just excuses that they are making to justify an illegal act. Any construction activities on the floodplains of the Yamuna that could be detrimental to its ecology should not be allowed. I had no problem with the organisation or the event, but why is this event held in the floodplains? It's a irony that the Art Of living which promotes peace and non-violence is doing such a violent thing to the river Yamuna. This is a classic test for the NGT to show that whoever you may be, you are not above the law of the land. You have to face the music.

 The Art of Living reiterated on their choice of the venue by saying, If we look back, all festivals have been happening on the banks of rivers since ages like the Kumbh Mela is happening every six to twelve years next to the river Ganga. So this is like a Kumbh Mela where thousands of people will gather for a greater good.

Misra said that this is indeed a wrong trend to hold festivals on the banks of any river and an event like Mahakumbh massively pollutes and degrades the river Ganga.