Sri Sri, Why Are Rag-Pickers Left to Clean Art of Living’s Mess?

As the clean-up begins, none of Sri Sri’s “volunteers” can be seen at the site of the World Culture Festival.

Updated
India
3 min read
Rag-pickers sort through trash left behind by Art of Living devotees. (Photo: Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

In the wake of the controversial World Culture Festival, the thousand volunteers Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said would clean up the venue could not be found. Instead, rag-pickers and contractors are making their way through the mess accumulated over three days of the festival.

Rag-pickers go through the trash left by tens of thousands of Art of Living devotees. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Rag-pickers go through the trash left by tens of thousands of Art of Living devotees. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Garbage at the venue of the event. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Garbage at the venue of the event. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

Flyers, plastic bottles and other pieces of trash can be found in the Yamuna river and nearby farms. Land near the Yamuna and around the venue has been flattened under the weight of thousands of feet.

The scene is different from the one painted by Art of Living, the foundation behind the festival. Sri Sri and spokespersons for the foundation said more than one thousand volunteers would return to the festival grounds to assist in the clean-up process. On two trips to the site today, The Quint found no more than 30 volunteers picking up scrap from the grounds.

Tens of thousands of people left behind plastic water bottles and snack packets over three days. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Tens of thousands of people left behind plastic water bottles and snack packets over three days. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Plastic waste at the venue of World Cultue Festival. (Photo:&nbsp;Sanjoy Deb)
Plastic waste at the venue of World Cultue Festival. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

For more than a month, the site of the World Culture Festival has been at the centre of a controversy involving the Art of Living, government institutions and environmentalists.

Petitioners Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, and Anand Arya, a private citizen, say the destruction caused by the event will have long-lasting consequences for the river and its flood plain. The petitioners attempted to halt the event in hearings before the National Green Tribunal, citing an order from the tribunal last year forbidding construction on the Yamuna floodplain.

The tribunal allowed the event to go forward, but fined the Art of Living Foundation an initial Rs 5 crore as compensation for damage caused, and fined the Delhi Development Authority Rs 5 lakh for giving permission for the festival.

Contractors are taking down the 40ft stage. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Contractors are taking down the 40ft stage. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

Art of Living told the tribunal it will restore the Yamuna floodplain and leave it more beautiful than ever before, but the foundation has not given many details about how this restoration will take place.

Executives from contracting companies charged with the clean-up say they are only responsible for the festival grounds, and not for any of the damage done outside of the event premises by attendees.

One of the 650 toilets promised by Art of Living? (Photo: Dinesh C Sharma)
One of the 650 toilets promised by Art of Living? (Photo: Dinesh C Sharma)
Elephant statues and debris are all that remain of the three-day World Culture Festival. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Elephant statues and debris are all that remain of the three-day World Culture Festival. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
We are not responsible for garbage scattered on fields. I agree that people would have thrown plastic bottles in the Yamuna but we have no plan to clean the garbage thrown in the river.
Om Prakash, Senior Executive, BVG India Limited
Om Prakash of BVG India Limited talks to <b>The Quint. </b>(Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
Om Prakash of BVG India Limited talks to The Quint. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

When asked about whether volunteers had come to help pick up residual trash, most rag pickers and contractors working at the site said they had not met anyone.

A spokesperson for the Art of Living Foundation told The Quint volunteers would be at the site tomorrow, but did not know how many would show up.

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