The grandiose spectacle that the >Art of Living Foundation has organised on a thousand-acre site on the floodplain of a river in Delhi to demonstrate ‘humanitarianism’ and the oneness of cultures will go down as a spectacular example of thoughtless environmental destruction. The Central and Delhi governments have, in a display of extraordinary non-application of mind, allowed a private entity to take over part of the Yamuna floodplain, an area with well-known ecological vulnerabilities, for a ‘show’. The low priority accorded in recent times to environmental impacts of official decisions is manifest here: large parts of the >biodiversity-rich floodplain have been irresponsibly levelled, provision made for approach roads and vehicle parking, and a massive, 40-foot-high stage with garish symbols built for the event. The Union Ministry of Culture, the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Lalit Kala Akademi and other organisations that have supported the three-day extravaganza should worry that they have lent their credentials to the creation of a large and destructive footprint for the river. The Yamuna is a major resource for Delhi, and there is a great deal of scientific literature on why it should be protected and rejuvenated for the benefit of the national capital region. Studies done on Delhi’s water needs indicate that there are twice as many people living in the city than it can support based on carrying capacity norms. The imperative therefore should be to help the Yamuna use its full potential of recharging its aquifers using monsoon flood flows across a generous one-kilometre width, bringing more precious water to Delhi.
It should surprise everyone that the NDA government, which has been making a high-profile campaign of >river-cleansing projects , allowed unregulated construction activity on the Yamuna floodplain and removal of vegetation without so much as a sound environmental impact assessment. Deploying the Army to put up long bridges was also unwarranted. >The National Green Tribunal , which heard a petition against the holding of the so-called world culture festival, noted that the Art of Living Foundation had failed to submit even a detailed project report on the works it was undertaking after it obtained permission from the Delhi Development Authority last year. Faced with a Rs.5-crore initial fine imposed by the NGT, the head of the Foundation, Sri Sri Ravishankar, first decided to brazen it out and not remit the penalty, although saner counsel seems to have prevailed. The NGT has rightly ordered an exhaustive review by a special committee of the damage caused to the river and its floodplain. The only option for the Foundation should be to meet the full cost of scientific restoration, consistent with the polluter-pays principle. Having claimed the participation of 3.5 million people from 155 countries, it should not be difficult for the organisers to mobilise the funds needed to restore the ecology of an invaluable part of the country’s natural heritage.