All you need to know about the controversy surrounding the Art of Living mega-event

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Photo: ANI)
In the latest blow to the controversy-hit cultural festival organised by the Art of Living Foundation later this week, President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday said he will not attend the event.

According to the Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, President Mukherjee had agreed to give the valedictory speech at the World Culture Festival, which will begin on March 11.

The three-day function on the Yamuna flood plains has run into rough weather with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday resuming the hearing of pleas seeking cancellation of the event because of the ecological damage it is alleged to likely cause.  

1) What are the environmental concerns regarding the event?

The NGT is hearing a plea filed by environmental activist Manoj Misra against Art of Living’s plan to release 'enzymes' into 17 drains that flow into the Yamuna, supposedly to clean the river.

Earlier, the green panel had issued notices to the Delhi government, DDA and Art of Living Foundation on another plea seeking stoppage of ongoing construction related to the event on the flood plains.

A Livemint report says that Misra, convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan to save the river, has sought a halt on construction work related to the event on the floodplains of Yamuna river. He alleges the construction will have an adverse impact on the flood plains.

Part of the construction, according to the report, will be what Art of Living wants to be "the world’s largest temporary stage that will be 1,200 feet long, 200 feet wide and 40 feet high".

2) Who is doing the heavy lifting?

The Indian Army has been used to build pontoon bridges on the Yamuna river for the event, raising eyebrows and drawing criticism from various quarters.  

Despite the criticism, according to a report by The Hindustan Times, the Army is likely to build one more pontoon bridge in an attempt to ease movement of lakhs of people who are expected to attend.

According to the same report, defence sources said that the organisers of the mega-event had approached the Defence Ministry and sought six pontoon bridges but the army was asked to build only one. The report added that a second bridge has been erected by the PWD.

The report quoted the source as saying that the army had raised the question of whether its personnel should be deployed in organising a ‘private event’ in front of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

3) What does Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have to say about this?

Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whose Art of Living organisation is organising the mega-event, on Tuesday defended the event, saying not a single tree has been cut and that the ecological stability of the area has been maintained during preparations and construction.

Speaking to the media, Sri Sri, as he is popularly known, said, "We are asserting that we will turn the place into a beautiful bio-diversity park once we are finished with it. Since 2010, our volunteers have been working hard to clean the river and around 512 tonnes of dirt and garbage has been fished out. We want to save the Yamuna. We have not cut a single tree and have maintained ecological stability. We want to see Yamuna transformed into a beauty again." 

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