ith just 10 days to go, uncertainty hangs over a giant cultural festival being organised on the floodplains of the Yamuna as experts are divided on whether the event will damage the topography of the area.
The World Culture Festival, being organised by the Art of Living Foundation to celebrate its 35th anniversary, will be held between March 11 and 13 on the floodplains near Mayur Vihar in East Delhi.
Organisers are expecting 3.5 million people to attend over three days, and are building what they call the world’s largest stage, which will be spread over seven acres, for artistes to perform. The site stretches over 1,000 acres, flanked by the busy Delhi-Noida Direct Toll Bridge on one side, and the river on the other.
The foundation is aiming for a “mega celebration of diversity”. But, there’s just one problem. Construction on the floodplains is not allowed, and an environmentalist has moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to stop the event from taking place.
While the Tribunal hears the petition filed by Manoj Misra, the convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, government officials, conservationists and lawyers are divided over the legality of the entire programme.
Vinod Jain, who is called Delhi’s “water man” for his efforts to promote conservation, said there was no doubt that such a massive event would damage the floodplains. “They have already altered the topography of the area. The Master Plan-2021 doesn’t allow any construction in the floodplains, which have already shrunk from 97 square kilometres to 65 sq. km due to illegal construction,” said Mr. Jain.
He added that the floodplains were designated for setting up reservoirs and bio-diversity parks. Delhi could have saved 200 million gallons per day if it had made reservoirs in the floodplains, said Mr. Jain.
The Art of Living, however, denies that the activities are illegal. Akshama Nath, the lawyer representing the foundation in the NGT, said all necessary permissions from relevant departments were attained before work started in mid-December, 2015.
“The allegation against us is that we have caused permanent damage by dumping debris at the site. But, that is not at all the case,” said Ms. Nath.
She said the Art of Living had found construction debris spread over 25 acres of the site when it started work.
“We started removing the debris at our own cost after the Delhi Development Authority allowed us to do so,” she said.
She denied that any cement or sand had been used to make the massive stands and stage.
“We have kept a safe distance from the riverbed, as ordered by the NGT. The Art of Living has worked to revive dying rivers. It’s our mission that the Yamuna lives,” said Ms. Nath.
Ministers and officials in the Delhi government have supported the event, with even PM Narendra Modi expected to attend.
An Environment Department official said the event should be allowed to continue as long as the site is returned to its previous condition after the festival.
Delhi Tourism and Culture Minister Kapil Mishra said the event would not damage the river as the construction was temporary. He said he welcomed the festival that would bring visitors from across the world to Delhi.
They (Art Of Living) have already altered the topography of the area (floodplains)
Over 3.5 million people will attend the three-day event, which will have the world’s largest stage — spread over an area of seven acres