Over a month-and-a-half after the controversial World Cultural Festival organised by Art of Living foundation was held on the river banks of Yamuna in East Delhi, the venue is still littered with plastic bottles, paper cups, polythene bags and construction material. Vast swathes of the venue of the event have been flattened after the vegetation was cut down for the event. 

The Art of Living Foundation, which handed over the site to Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on April 18, has made it clear that, believe it or not… they left the place in a “better condition than they received it.” 

A visit to the site reveals construction material and bricks spread over a wide area. Wooden items and other light material used for erecting and designing the mammoth stage for the event can still be seen near the venue. At certain spots, heaps of limestone powder can be seen. Shreds of security clearance tickets and Delhi police stickers are also visible where the stage was. 

b’Chunks of construction material and security clearance tickets of Delhi police can be seen strewn across the site | Source: ScoopWhoop/Ahmed Kamal’

Anjali Devi, who has been growing vegetables beneath the DND flyover for the last six years, told ScoopWhoop that a lot of vegetation was cut down before the event and hundreds of truckloads of construction material was dumped on the site to prepare it for the event. 

“They also erected a makeshift wall of tin-sheets across the event. There used to be small water bodies around here and there but all of them were filled up,” she said. 

However, director of AOL foundation and main organizer of the World Cultural Festival, Gautam Vig told ScoopWhoop the site has no security and anybody could dump waste and construction material there.

“This is obviously not our waste. We cleared the venue and moved out. The venue is a favourite dumping ground and it was brought to our notice that there was some foul play,” Vig told ScoopWhoop.

Referring to the case against the foundation before National Green Tribunal and imposition of “environmental compensation” of Rs 5 crore, Vig said they have been demanding a “neutral and scientific” assessment of the site by a new expert committee. 

“The NGT expert committee which made the visual assessment of the site are an interested party. They are not a committee with an independent view. We want a neutral committee,” Vig said. 

AOL has paid only Rs 25 lakh of the compensation levied by the NGT and has sought more time to pay the remaining Rs 4.75 crore.

b’The Yamuna floodplain was compacted with the mud for the event | Source: ScoopWhoop/Ahmed Kamal’

Experts believe that in order to restore the floodplain area of the shrinking Yamuna, the mud needs to be dug out till the sand beneath it is revealed.

“A floodplain is a sand aquifer and sand is very porous. When you bring clay, which is imporous, on the floodplain, it becomes non-porous. The first thing they have to do is to dig out the mud,” Professor Vikram Soni, who has been a UGC Professor of Physics at the National Physical Laboratory at Jamia Millia Islamia told ScoopWhoop.

The government must learn the value of floodplains and not allow any such kinds events to be held in these sensitive zones. Floodplains store a good amount of water which it absorbs due to rainfall and floods. The blame does not rest only with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but also the government which allowed it to happen,” Soni, who is presently an Emeritus Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said. 

In the run up to the event in March, several attempts were made by some activists and environmentalists to stop the event through litigation. One of them was Anand Arya, a birdwatcher and activist, who filed a petition before the NGT. 

b’Swathes of vegetation was cut down by the organizers to level the ground for the event | Source: ScoopWhoop/Ahmed Kamal’

“The NGT was misled in believing certain things which had no ground. During the court proceedings we came to know that the AOL had asked for permission of only 24.44 hectares (60 acres) but the event was held on 1000 acres. In fact, the area of festivities marked on the invitation card mentioned the venue spreading over 2700 acres,” Anand said. 

According to Anand the event has had a detrimental impact on the nearby Okhla Bird Sanctuary. He also said a lot of discrepancies had emerged during the tribunal’s proceedings.

“The damage to the floodplain is very very extensive. How can a private NGO have the blessings of the government. The event had blessings from the highest office. I am very surprised that Prime Minister consented to inaugurate an event where NGT had held that all laws were broken,” Anand, a retired Managing Director of an MNC, said. 

Questioning how a private NGO could restore an ecologically sensitive site, Anand said it was the job of experts to assess the damage and suggest measures. While stating that some part of the damage might be restored in a few years, he said that a part of the damage is “repairable.”

“The NGO must be made accountable for what it has done,” he said.

Feature image source: ScoopWhoop/Ahmed Kamal