President Pranab Mukherjee to skip Art of Living event in wake of controversies

President Pranab Mukherjee will not be attending the cultural festival being organised by the Art of Living Foundation later this week, in the wake of controversy over holding the three-day function on the Yamuna flood plains.

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

While the organisers of the function expect lakhs of people to attend, concerns have been raised by experts about the damage to the environment that may be caused as the three-day event was being held on flood plains of the river in east Delhi.

The National Green Tribunal is hearing a petition which has claimed that the organisers will release 'enzymes' into 17 drains that flow into Yamuna for cleaning the river.  A judgement is expected tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army, which has built a pontoon bridge on the Yamuna for the festival, is likely to build one more to ease movement of those expected to attend the controversy-ridden mega event.

The development came even as there was criticism from some quarters, including the social media, about using Army to build the floating bridge for such an event.

"Lakhs of people are expected to turn up. There is a question of law and order and also fears of stampede. Permission has been granted by concerned authorities to host the event. If a permission has been given, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything is run smoothly," highly placed defence soures said.

They said the organisers had approached the Defence Ministry seeking six such bridges but the Army was asked to erect only one. A second bridge has been erected by the PWD.

"The Delhi Police has now given a report saying that there are fears of stampede and hence the Army might build another bridge," sources said, adding that a Minister from the Delhi government has also written to the Ministry highlighting the need for such bridges.

Sources said Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had asked the Defence Secretary to look into the issue. During his interaction with the Army, the force wondered whether their personnel should be used to help a "private event".

"The Minister was of the view that since permission has been granted, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything was fine. The Army, which has the expertise, was asked to step in keeping the larger good of people in mind," sources said.

They added that the Army has been used during Kumbh Mela and even the Commonwealth Games.

Told that the event has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal, which looks after the environmental issues, sources said the Army is only helping people and it is up to the concerned authorities to grant permission or withdraw it.


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