Art of Living event along Yamuna’s floodplain creates controversy

An area of 1,000 acres have been cleared to construct huts, pandals and a giant 7-acre stage right on the river channel. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

It may sound ironical for a city that has already ‘killed’ its only source of water and fighting with the neighbours for uninterrupted water supply, but a construction exercise of gigantic proportions is on along the Yamuna floodplains, which green activists say threatens the river’s ecology.

Huge machines have cleared over 1,000 acres where tents, hutments, pontoon bridges and a gigantic 7-acre stage is coming up to host the three-day cultural festival of Art of Living, scheduled for March 11-13.

The National Green Tribunal, which is seized of the matter, had earlier expressly prohibited all construction activity in the river floodplains as they pose grave danger to the ecology of the river.

Hindustan Times visited the site on Thursday and saw how the venue was coming up bit by bit.

A massive pandal is coming up. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

Barricades have been put up and construction and demolition waste is being indiscriminately used. Just as one takes the DND Flyway towards Noida or Mayur Vihar from Ashram or Sarai Kale Khan, the colossal construction work stands out on the left.

Road rollers and JCBs can be seen at work. Vast stretches have been cleared and the work is happening right on the river channel. Even a pontoon bridge has been built to bring in people from the other side of the Yamuna.

The event is expected to be attended by 35 lakh people.

“We started work on the 4th of this month. In a couple of days, this bridge will be completed. Work is going on in full pace and we will finish everything before time,” a labourer working on the pontoon bridge told Hindustan Times.

Environmentalists, however, are crying foul. “To create a world record, they are trying to build a stage spread over 7 acres over which 35,000 musicians are supposed to play at the same time. Construction on floodplains is prohibited as it not only affects the natural flow of the river but even impacts the ecosystem. This is blatant violation of environmental laws,” birdwatcher and activist Anand Arya said.

Bhim Singh Rawat of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) said cutting of trees and dumping of debris on the floodplain was also impacting the aquatic and bird population.

JCB machines can be seen working throughout the day. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

The Art of Living Foundation said it was taking all requisite measures to maintain the ecological balance of the Yamuna riverbank.

“Prior to beginning work on the site, we cleared nearly 20-25 acres of the area which was earlier covered with construction debris. The World Culture Festival venue is at a safe distance from the riverbank and we have set in place systems to ensure it remains clean after the event is over,” a foundation spokesperson said.

“We are installing 650 chemical toilets to ensure none of the waste goes into the Yamuna,” the spokesperson said.

A plea against the event filed by river activist Manoj Mishra will come up for hearing before the National Green Tribunal on Friday.