The controversial World Culture Festival kicked off amid rains on the Yamuna plains on March 11. For the next three evenings, about 5 lakh people from Delhi and Noida are expected to attend the festival hosted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living (AOL).
How do the residents of adjacent Noida and Mayur Vihar feel about this? We decided to take a look.
City Spidey met a group of AOL supporters from Sector 93A, Noida. The residents assembled at a pre-decided spot before car-pooling to the venue. The group was excited about how the event was spreading the message of universal brotherhood and peace. The residents were aware of the Rs 5-crore fine slapped on AOL by the National Green Tribunal. They, however, seemed oblivious to the environmental damage the event is causing.
Amit Gupta, a resident of Eldeco Utopia, Sector 93A, and a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, defended the show by saying: "It is aimed at attracting attention to the pollution in the Yamuna river."
Eh? Focusing attention on pollution by further polluting the river, they say? While we at City Spidey are still trying to wrap our heads around this line of thought, we decided to see what another section of residents are thinking.
"The festival should definitely not have been hosted on the Yamuna plains,” said Vikrant Tongad, an environment activist from Sector 36, Greater Noida. “Flood plains act as a natural filter for the river water and prevent flooding in the surrounding areas. The Yamuna plains in particular are home to various birds, small animals and micro-organisms. There was no thought spared for them. Besides, the eco-sensitive Okhla bird sanctuary is just a few kilometres away. The festival’s bright lights and loudspeaker blare is sure to scare the birds away.”
"Also, where are the small-scale farmers whose livelihood depended on the Yamuna plains? What happened to them?" he asked.
By levelling the Yamuna plains, the World Culture Festival has stripped it of its essential identity. It has also exposed a gaping ignorance on AOL’s part: How can it “restore” the plains if it doesn’t know what has been destroyed in the first place?
Rishipal Singh Awana, president of the Sector 19 RWA, decried the use of the Yamuna plains for such a large-scale event, which is set to see a footfall of at least 3.5 million.
However, AOL followers we spoke to are of a completely different view. They claim that the foundation has been protecting the environment for a long time by planting thousands of plants and undertaking campaigns to sensitise people to the importance of protecting the environment. Festival supporters also claim that since February 19, more than 5,000 volunteers have removed 500 tonnes of waste from the river.
Amit Kumar Gupta, a resident of Eldeco Apartments, Sector 93A, and a devotee of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, said, “Most people are not aware of AOL’s pro-environment activities. This is why such ridiculous questions about the damage to environment are being raised.”
However, residents of Noida and Mayur Vihar are also worried about the law and order, and traffic situation in the area.
DP Ranjan, a resident of Mayur Vihar Phase 1, pointed out that the Delhi Police has warned residents of “stampede”, “pandemonium” and “chaos”. However, he had another concern. “The event will end on Sunday, but the dismantling may go on for months. Who will be responsible for this? We don’t think the organisers will be bothered,” he said.
We’ll get to that too.