Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Spirituality Will Kill Delhi’s Lifeline

Floodplains are critical to Delhi because they recharge groundwater and act like sponges and prevent flooding.

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The World Cultural Festival stage can be seen just from the DND Flyway. (Photo altered by<b> The Quint</b>)

A few days back, I got an invitation to Art of Living’s World Culture Festival. The invite promised a confluence of melody, knowledge, silence and dance. It all sounded very interesting; I made a note of the date thinking that for all the bad air that one breathes in Delhi, at least, it offers the best cultural activities.

Last week, I read in the papers that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has fined the Art of Living Foundation (AOL) for environmental violations. The NGT was hearing the case daily so I decided to visit it and hear both sides of the story.

AOL is organising a three-day festival where around 35 lakh people will come from all over the world. More than thousand acres of the Yamuna floodplains have been cleared and gigantic stages are being built, including one that would be built over 7 acres where 35,000 musicians will perform together.

The area has been cleared of all vegetation and is being filled with construction material. Several ramps and parking areas are being built. Arrangements are being made to ferry 35 lakh people.

Just thinking about the enormity of this made me wonder how something like this would have been allowed, that that too under the name of culture and spirituality. During the course of the hearing, I learnt that several norms have been flouted and the event has been organised without necessary clearances.

A Chennai in The Making?

The Yamuna floodplains are an ecologically fragile and sensitive area where the NGT had passed an order prohibiting all construction. Floodplains are an extremely important part of the river ecosystem, even if we forget all animal and plant life that thrives here.

They are critical to Delhi for two very important reasons: they recharge groundwater and act like sponges and prevent flooding. Both these functions would be critically compromised after the JCBs have compacted the area.

An event of this magnitude would further reduce the water security of Delhi. After the recent water crisis, this is the last thing that Delhi needs. The loss of natural water bodies and construction over floodplains has been cited as one of the main reasons that led to the recent flooding in Chennai as well.

Art of Living builds the World Culture Festival stage on the Yamuna floodplain (Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Safaya)
Art of Living builds the World Culture Festival stage on the Yamuna floodplain (Photo Courtesy: Siddharth Safaya)

What is really ironic is that the NGT order that prohibited all activities also made farming in the floodplains illegal; so while poor farmers have been displaced, “world luminaries and politicians” are being allowed to destroy the area and preach humanity to a captive audience.

The little that I know about spirituality is that it supports all forms of life equally; so a human habitat is as important as a bird habitat. There are innumerable stories in the scriptures about compassion towards animal and plant life. So I find it very ironic that a spiritual guru who would like to create a “violence free” society would hold such an event that would kill whatever is left of the river.

The AOL website claims to have 370 million followers; such status also comes with huge responsibility towards Mother Earth and all forms of life that it supports. At the end of the hearing, a PR executive walked up to me offering quotes from the AOL Foundation about the event. This really made me think! Spirituality has really become big business where gurus are hiring PR agencies.

(Reena Gupta has worked extensively on issues related to the environment, agriculture and sustainable development for the last 15 years. She worked with several national and international organizations including the World Bank. She is also part of a group that is working on preserving the Ganga. She currently lives in Delhi and cares deeply about the environment of the city.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

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