After controversies hit Sri Sri’s event, President Pranab Mukherjee decides to keep away from it

Eyebrows raised over Army building bridges on the Yamuna.

March 07, 2016 03:07 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 04:12 am IST - NEW DELHI

In this file photo a pontoon bridge is being built on the Yamuna for the "World Culture Festival."

In this file photo a pontoon bridge is being built on the Yamuna for the "World Culture Festival."

President Pranab Mukherjee will not be delivering the valedictory address at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s cultural festival in the national capital, as announced. This comes in the backdrop of several controversies swirling around the World Culture Festival set to start on Friday.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan source said on Monday that Mr. Mukherjee would not attend the event, which has come under the > National Green Tribunal ’s scanner for > allegedly violating environmental norms as it erects a massive facility on the Yamuna floodplains.

Eyebrows are also being raised over the way the Army has been called in to build pontoon bridges on the Yamuna for the event being organised by the Art of Living Foundation.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan source, while confirming that the President will not be attending the festival, did not give any specific reason for the decision. According to the organisers, the President > had agreed to deliver the valedictory speech at the festival, which will be held on the Yamuna floodplains in East Delhi from March 11 to 13.

No intimation from President, says Art of Living Foundation

“We have not received any intimation from the President cancelling his attendance,” said a spokesperson for the Art of Living Foundation, which is organising the World Culture Festival, on the Yamuna floodplains here from March 11 to 13, to mark its 35th anniversary.

In posters, hoardings and pamphlets, the programme includes its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the valedictory address by President Pranab Mukherjee, apart from an address by Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The National Green Tribunal is hearing a case for shifting the venue as construction is banned on the floodplains.

The Art of Living insists that it is only putting up temporary structures on the 1,000-acre site.

Mamta Kail, an Art of Living volunteer at the site, said: “We have not dug one inch of ground. The stage is 7 acres in size, and is completely eco-friendly. No cement has been used.”

The event is expected to draw 35 lakh people.

Pictures of soldiers working for the event goes viral

Adding further controversy to the event, pictures of soldiers in combat fatigues and Army trucks at the site went viral on the social media on Monday, drawing sharp criticism from various quarters on the employment of the Army for such an event.

Officials of the Ministry of Defence defended the decision saying it was done in “public interest” as several lakh people were expected to attend the event.

Asked whether the Army had put forward its reservations, Army officers said the order came from the government and the Army did as directed. “The Army raised its concerns but were told that it had to be done in the overall public interest,” one officer said.

“The government will take responsibility for the safety of people attending the event. So this was done in public interest and the Army is best tasked for such things,” a senior government official said.

Another senior officer said the Army barely got a chance to practise bridge-laying on the Yamuna, and this was a good opportunity as “they were called in with all permissions.”

An Army company of about 120 soldiers from the Corps of Engineers has been tasked with constructing the bridge.

While the Army was requested to construct at least four bridges, the Army built one and may build one more, officials said.

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