Buddhdev Pandya on Mayhem at Yamuna river bank

A muddy Yamuna base from the festival site

Art of Living: it pays to know most powerful….writes Buddhdev Pandya MBE

A muddy Yamuna base from the festival site
A muddy Yamuna base from the festival siter

The recent controversy involving a mega cultural programme organised by the Art of Living at the Yamuna river has exposed India to be what it is!  Our authorities operate in most confused and uncoordinated manner. The most powerful and influential virtually getaway by either bending the rules or breaking it with a gentle slap on their knuckle.

According to the Art of Living (AoL) the three-day event between 11th to 13th March is expecting nearly 3.5 million visitors who would be trampling the grand of ‘Yamuna floodplains”. We all love cultural programmes and value the contribution made by the voluntary groups in the country. And, welcome AoL which saw fit to stage a cultural programme; but little sympathy for the           environmental destruction that would be left behind after the event at the floodplains. The Expert Panels and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) have already agree that Art of Living has made permanent changes to Yamuna’s ecology.

Sri Sri Ravishankar
Sri Sri Ravishankar
Buddhdev Pandya MBE
Buddhdev Pandya MBE

Ironically, at the time when the BJP Government is busy clamping down on some NGOs under pretext of abuse of rules and their role, there seems to be a different narrative in this case.

When a large number are gathering at any public events, one would assume that the authorities and the organisers iron out any relevant planning issues and deal with health and safety before any work is allowed to commence. In any case, the river authorities and indeed the police with the fire brigade would be the first to scrutinize the event of such magnitude; regardless of it is a private or public function. More so, if the President of India and the Prime Ministers are expected to attend the event.

As the saga unfolded, at the 11th hour the NGT was told by the Water Resources ministry that had not granted permission for Festival’.  The Ministry of Environment and Forests even maintained that no environment clearance was required for setting up temporary structures on the flood plains. Really!

Nearly three days left to the event, and yet there was no sight of any permission from the police or fire brigade, despite it was known that millions of people would be attending the event. You simply can’t engage the military personnel to build platoon bridges without coasting the exercise to facilitate a private function and work on assumptions of ‘political’ approval. How pathetic it is when only just days before the event the Delhi government informs the NGT that the Central Public Works Department has asked Art of Living to build a separate stage for the PM due to issues over structural safety. It does not matter thousands are put at risk on the stage that is already constructed!

Heavy rain played spoilsport at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's controversial mega cultural festival that began in Delhi on Friday
Heavy rain played spoilsport at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s controversial mega cultural festival that began in Delhi on Friday

Questions being asked as to why the Union environment ministry didn’t do anything about it. Some suggest that they are washing hands of the AOL episode, with phrases like ‘abdicating responsibility’ doing the rounds. Some claims that the ministry has been hiding behind a supposed ‘confusion’ in       environmental laws covering temporary structures, a fig leaf that the NGT has uncovered. Moreover, most lawyers have indicated that there are many other things, within the law, that the ministry could have done, but chose not to. And, where is the promised ‘Good Governance’ and sensitivity towards environment protection?

On one more serious note, since when an NGO can even think of deciding itself of pouring down any enzymes in to the river without the approval of any official bodies such as the Central Board of pollution Control and the river authorities. It was left to the green panel, last week to instruct the counsel appearing for AOL to not to put enzymes into river Yamuna without Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s permission.

At this juncture, the debate about the ‘environment protection’ simply evaporates. The authorities have conceded that the damage is already done, no need to cry over ‘spilt milk ‘and given a go-ahead with ‘a nudge and a wink’. Sri Sri Shankar, the AoL Guru has already declared he they will not even      prepared to pay fine. It is either by design or default finally it has become a fait accompli. It shows that it pays for those who have friends in high places.

There is no doubt that this has embarrassed India internationally, particularly when our PM has been preaching the word of responsibility for protecting the environment. Sri Sri Shankar, the leader of AoL has engulfed himself in to a self-inflicted controversy; Champion of the cause, indeed! Perhaps, it is fair to say that t seems the ‘political interest’ has taken better of his wisdom, or he could have chosen to opt for a suitable ethical site in the interest of preserving the sanctity of the environment protection of the river site.

The tragedy for India is that we are prone to abuse of power and practices where political interests enjoy freedom to bypassing regulations in our quest for ‘good governance’. We love that culture of       favors and corruption-in kind or cash. With this mindset, we simply remain observers and watch in amusement while our natural environment is destroyed for greed or politics gains.