Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Yamuna Event: Don't Test Our Patience, Green Panel Tells Centre

09/03/2016 2:01 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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MONEY SHARMA via Getty Images
Indian labourers take part in construction work on the banks of the River Yamuna in New Delhi on March 1, 2016. World-famous Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has come under fire over a mass yoga and meditation festival that environmentalists say risks damaging the delicate ecosystem of Delhi's Yamuna river's banks. Critics say the World Culture festival, to be held later this month on the banks of the river with millions of fans including India's prime minister in attendance, will cause lasting environmental damage. AFP PHOTO / Money SHARMA / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday pulled up the Ministry of Environment & Forests for not filing an affidavit as asked by it regarding environment clearances for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival in Delhi. The green court also asked the Centre, Delhi govt and Delhi Development Authority if any environment impact assessment was carried out before the preparation for the three-day event to be held on the flood plains of Yamuna.

The Water Resource Ministry informed the green body that they have not given any permission for the event and the bench expressed its displeasure to the MoEF. Asking the ministry to not test their patience, the NGT asked them flatly whether permission had been granted to build the bridge-like structure over the river.

ravi shankar world culture

Later, the counsel for the Art of Living foundation assured the bench that there will be no activity during the event which violates the NGT order and that a sufficient distance will be maintained from the river. The NGT reiterated its question to all respondents that if any environment impact assessment was carried out regarding consequential effects of this event.

Meanwhile, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has appealed to all parties to not politicize the mega function, asserting that the World Culture Festival being organised by the Art of Living foundation on the Yamuna floodplains was an event to unite everyone.

UPROAR IN PARLIAMENT

A united opposition in Rajya Sabha slammed the Government for allowing the Indian Army to be used for a private event, saying the function itself on the ecologically fragile flood plains of Yamuna was an environmental disaster.

Government sprung to the defence of the 'Art of Living' guru saying his intentions cannot be doubted as he was committed to protecting the environment. The event is being organised with all permissions, it claimed, adding that the issue cannot be raised in the House as it was being heard by the National Green Tribunal.

But the members were not satisfied and rushed to the Well shouting slogans, forcing a brief adjournment.

Sharad Yadav (JD-U) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Cong) gave notice under rule 267 seeking adjournment of proceedings to discuss the issue but the Deputy Chairman P J Kurien allowed the issue to be raised only as a Zero Hour submission.

Terming the construction as a "destruction unseen in history", Yadav said NGT had earlier given orders disallowing it and DDA had cancelled permission twice.

art of living

He wanted to know "under what pressure was Indian Army deployed to build pontoon bridge for one person."

Demanding immediate stoppage of the construction, he said, "What function is he (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) doing? Kya tamasha kar raha hai (what drama is he doing)?" Kurien asked members not to criticise anybody who cannot come and defend himself in the House.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Ravi Shankar was committed to environment protection and the programme was "being conducted with all permissions and is not illegal."

Azad said he was not against 'Art of Living' foundation or any cultural festival but was concerned about environment, bio-diversity and ecology.

The government, rightly so, became a great champion of environment at the recent climate summit at Paris but what was happening in the capital was of concern, he said.

Stating that NGT had in January 2015 declared that any construction on Yamuna banks would be deemed a criminal act, Azad said big structures were being built to hold the event on 1000 acres of land. Diesel generators, car parking and sound sets are being set up, with the Delhi Police warning of stampede, pandemonium and chaos.

ravi shankar world culture

No permission for structural safety has been given, while there was also a security angle involved with Pakistan warning of terror strikes, he said. "This function could have been held anywhere but not at the cost of Yamuna."

M S Gill of Congress asked if the Army would also be sent out to build bridges across Sutlej and other rivers by events by other spiritual gurus. He referred to the Commonwealth Games village also built on the Yamuna banks which saw flooding in October 2010.

Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asked whether the issue "should be heard here (in Rajya Sabha) or in the National Green Tribunal."

"Just because somebody is perceived to be close to the Bharatiya Janata Party, just because somebody ostensibly helped the BJP during the 2014 elections and just because some gentleman considers himself to be ostensibly God. This doesn't mean that a different kind of rules should be applied to him," Congress leader Manish Tewari told ANI.

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As Kurien took up other issues, Congress, SP, JD-U and Left members were up on their feet rejecting the government response. They soon trooped to the Well raising slogans.

"What is the rationale for coming and disturbing the House. This is unjustifiable. This is unnecessary shouting," Kurien said and urged the members to return to their seats.

Amid sloganeering, Sharad Yadav cited a rule to counter Jaitley for citing a rule that matters pending before court or tribunal could not be raised in the House. "(He) is misleading the House," Yadav said.

Congress members continued to raising slogans. At one point AIADMK members too trooped to the Well. However, the reason could not be known amid din. The Deputy Chairman kept asking the protesting members to return to their seats as some members sought to raise Zero Hour issues. "You people are becoming laughing stock before the people and country," Kurien told protesting members.

Towards the end of Zero Hour, the Chair adjourned the House for two minutes.

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