New Delhi: The Indian Army's decision to make pontoon bridges for the Art of Living Foundation's upcoming World Culture Festival was taken after Delhi Police expressed a fear of stampede at the venue, where around 30 lakh people are expected, a source close to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told IANS.
The source also said the Art of Living Foundation may not be charged for the bridges as there is no policy in place for it.
The defence minister has, however, directed the defence secretary to formulate a policy for the army's involvement in such events in future.
The army, according to the source, was approached by the Art of Living Foundation for construction of six bridges across the Yamuna to the flood plain where the mega event is being organised.
The army had initially refused, but it was only after Delhi Police expressed fear of a stampede that the defence ministry agreed to engage the army in the process.
"Public safety is a government concern, and Delhi police said there could be a stampede with the huge crowd gathering there," sources close to the defence minister told IANS.
"It was in that view that the ministry asked the army to assist with the construction of the bridges," the source said.
While initially the army had agreed to construct only one bridge, with the huge crowd expected, it was decided that one more bridge needed to be constructed.
"This bridge was to be set up in the Kumbh Mela in Madhya Pradesh, it was diverted here and will be taken to Ujjain later," the source said.
This year, the army will be assisting in making floating bridges in Ujjain, where the Kumbh is taking place this year.
"The minister has told the defence secretary to formulate a policy for providing army's assistance to such events, whether they should charge or not. One reason why the army does not charge for such events is that once it starts taking money, a lot of groups can approach it," the source added.
The move of involving the army for construction of the bridges, however, has drawn sharp criticism from various quarters.
The festival, organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation, is scheduled to be held from 11 to 13 March on a site that is thought to be a part of the environmentally sensitive flood plains of the Yamuna river.
The Art of Living along with the Delhi Development Authority is facing a case at the National Green Tribunal for alleged violation of environmental laws and polluting the Yamuna river. The NGT is expected to deliver the verdict in the case Tuesday.