New Delhi :
Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, under fire for organising a massive event on the Yamuna floodplain, today said his organisation will build a “biodiversity park” in that area and rubbished allegations of ecological harm.
Ravi Shankar told reporters here that not a single tree has been cut in the run up to the World Cultural Festival to be held between March 11-13 and that four trees have only been trimmed in the riverine area.
“Villagers said that their buffaloes never went near the water in the past. Now I have been informed by the them that those buffaloes have entered the water. The villagers are very happy.
“We will leave the place after making a biodiversity park there. In the past, our volunteers have brought out 512 tonne of garbage from Yamuna. We have not cut any trees, have just trimmed four. We want a clean Yamuna and we care about the environment,” Ravi Shankar said.
The event, slated to take place between March 11-13 on the west bank of Yamuna floodplain near DND flyover, has been organised to celebrate 35 years of The Art of Living. It is being supported by the Centre and the Delhi government among others, and is expected to attract around 35 lakh people.
It has come under the scanner of National Green Tribunal after a set of petitions were filed demanding its cancellation over concerns of potential permanent damage to the riverbed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the event on Friday and President Pranab Mukherjee was to attend the valedictory function on Sunday.
However, Mukherjee yesterday pulled out of the event in the wake of controversy citing “unavoidable circumstances”. The National Green Tribunal today questioned the Centre as to why no environmental clearance is required for erecting structures in Yamuna Flood plains for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living three-day ‘World Culture Festival’.
“You (MoEF) file an affidavit by tomorrow and tell us why no environmental clearance is needed for raising temporary structures in flood plains,” a bench headed by NGT chairperson Swantanter Kumar said.
The direction came after counsel appearing for Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) said that they have found no debris at the site, when an expert team had visited and as per Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006, no environment clearance is needed for temporary structures.
The Green Panel also questioned the building up of pontoon bridge by the Army on river Yamuna for the festival, and asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel as who gave the permission for setting it up.
DDA, Delhi government, MoEF said that they have no relation with the grant of permission for setting up the pontoon bridge as all the three said that they are concerned only with different issues.
While DDA said it was only required to give no objection certificate for the bridge, Delhi government submitted that its role for the pontoon bridge comes only at the time of flood and MoEF passed the buck on Ministry of Water Resources.
Advocate Rajiv Bansal appearing for DDA backed the authority’s decision to grant permission for the event saying that it has given the nod with conditions that no permanent construction will be permitted without permission from the competent authority.
“The area is meant for recreational activity. The area is with DDA and it is the competent authority. Permission was granted after taking proper legal opinion which was conditional that no permanent structure will be constructed and also that it will be subject to permissions from other concerned authorities,” he said.
Art of Living (AOL) in its submission said that it had taken the requisite permissions from all the authorities except from the police which is subject to permission from fire department and they have fulfilled all the conditions.
The bench after hearing the matter adjourned the matter for tomorrow. The NGT is hearing pleas seeking stoppage of ongoing construction on the flood plains for the Cultural festival.