Between Delhi and Noida, just off the DND Flyway, a cage of metal towers over the Yamuna flood plain. Trucks can be seen moving in and out of the plain and construction workers piece together fibreglass domes.
What used to be natural vegetation, trees and small water bodies have been replaced by a sizeable stage for the World Culture Festival organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s foundation, the Art of Living. The festival begins next week and is expected to draw 35 lakh people.
Construction, which has flattened an area of more than 1,000 acres, is in direct violation of a 2015 order from the National Green Tribunal banning construction on the Yamuna Flood Plain, reports from committees appointed by the National Green Tribunal and the Ministry of Environment and Forests found.
Flood plains play an important role as natural filters of water and can prevent flooding in surrounding areas. They also provide a home for birds and other species living by the river.
By flattening the soils and vegetation around, the World Culture Festival construction has depleted the plain’s ability to perform essential functions, petitioners against the project said.
Reports also found that construction waste had been dumped in the Yamuna, but Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s organisation has denied claims that the festival has caused extensive environmental damage.
His organisation is involved in a number of river restoration projects, including the Jal Jagruti Abhiyan initiative in Maharashtra, which de-silts water bodies, and the Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna initiative to clean up the Yamuna.
The Art of Living has a huge regard for the environment. We have never violated nor do we have any intention to violate any laws of the country. We have followed and further undertake to follow all the guidelines, recommendations, directions of the honourable court and the authorities extending us the permission to hold the World Culture Festival.Art of Living Spokesperson
One year ago the National Green Tribunal passed an order banning construction on the Yamuna Flood Plain in order to protect the natural environment around the river.
Previous requests for constructions on the zone have been denied.
This weekend the NGT recommended that the Art of Living Foundation be fined 100 to 120 crore to restore the ecosystem following the extensive damage caused to the flood plain. Restoration would have to be completed within one year.
The tribunal will conduct hearings starting on Tuesday to decide whether the festival should go forward.
You cannot favour the high and mighty. Everybody is equal under the law. We do not want [construction] to continue for one more minute.Anand Arya, petitioner against the World Culture Festival