Two days before it’s meant to begin, the enormous three-day event in Delhi led by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is enmeshed in so many controversies that every government department is claiming that it did not sanction the venue on the banks of the River Yamuna.
The Delhi Police says in a report that its inspection last week has revealed that instead of seven floating or pontoon bridges over the water, only one is ready, and it doesn’t have any wire fencing on the sides to prevent people from falling into the water if the crowd surges or a stampede breaks out. More bridges are needed to accommodate the huge audience that’s expected, the report says. In ads, Sri Sri’s Art of Living Foundation has claimed 35 lakh people will attend the event.
That the army has been asked to build bridges at the private event has been raised by critics – and by the top environmental court which is expected today to decide whether to cancel the “World Peace Festival”. Judges yesterday asked who involved the army; the Delhi government said it can only request pontoon bridges of the army if there is a threat of floods.
A pair of environmental activists has asked the National Green Tribunal to cancel the festival on the grounds that it will cause permanent damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Yamuna in the capital. A stage the size of six football fields is being prepped, but has reportedly been deemed unsafe by the security of the Prime Minister, who was meant to attend the event. President Pranab Mukherjee, after confirming his attendance, cancelled earlier this week.
From the Delhi Pollution Board to the Delhi Development Authority or DDA, arrays of government agencies have indicated in court that they did not clear permissions. The court has asked the union Environment Ministry to explain why it does not feel the need to license structures – even temporary ones – on the Yamuna banks.