New Delhi: A united opposition in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday slammed the Government for allowing Indian Army to be used for a private event of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living foundation, saying the event itself on the ecologically fragile flood plains of Yamuna was an environmental disaster.
Government sprung to the defence of the Art of Living guru saying his intentions cannot be doubted as he was committed to protecting environment. The event is being organised with all permissions, it claimed adding that the issue cannot be raised in the House as it was being heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
But the members were not satisfied and rushed into the Well shouting slogans, forcing a brief adjournment.
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Cong) gave notice under rule 267 seeking adjournment of proceedings to discuss the issue but the Deputy Chairman P J Kurien ruled that the former's notice was not in order but he was allowing the issue to be raised as a Zero Hour submission.
Terming the construction of temporary structure on the flood plains of Yamuna for Art of Living World Culture Festival from 11 to 13 February as "destruction unseen in history", Yadav said NGT had earlier given orders disallowing contruction activity on the ecologically fragile zone and DDA had cancelled permission twice.
He wanted to know "under what pressure was Indian Army deployed to build pontoon bridge for one person."
Demanding immediate stoppage of the construction, he said, "What function is he (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) doing? Kya tamasha kar raha hai (what drama is he doing)?"
Kurien asked members not to criticise anybody who cannot come and defend himself in the House.
Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) asked "can Indian Army be roped in to assist a private function... it is highly irregular... for Army to be called in to create facilities for a private function."
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Ravi Shankar was committed to environment protection and the programme was "being conducted with all permissions and is not illegal."
Azad said he was not against Art of Living foundation or any cultural festival but was concerned about environment, bio-diversity and ecology.
The government, rightly so, became a great champion of environment at the recent climate summit at Paris but what was happening in the capital was of concern, he said and asked why no environment clearance was taken for the function and "who issued permission to build pontoon bridge."
Stating that NGT had in January 2015 declared that any construction on Yamuna banks would be deemed a criminal act, Azad said big structures were being built to hold the event on 1000 acres of land. Diesel generators, car parking and sound sets are being set up, with the Delhi Police warning of stampede, pandemonium and chaos.
No permission for structural safety has been given, while there was also a security angle involved with Pakistan warning of terror strikes, he said. "This function could have been held anywhere but not at the cost of Yamuna."
M S Gill (Cong) asked if the Army would also be sent out to build bridges across Sutlej and other rivers by events by other spiritual gurus. He referred to the Commonwealth Games village also built on the Yamuna banks which saw flooding in October 2010.
Naqvi said NGT was hearing the issue and the programme was happening with all permissions. "You cannot doubt his (Ravi Shankar) intentions. He is running a campaign to clean Yamuna and is committed to protection of environment. It is not right to question his intentions," he said.
Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asked whether the issue "should be heard here (in Rajya Sabha) or in the National Green Tribunal."
If a matter is pending before any tribunal, it cannot be raised here, he said. "How is chair even allowing this? The rules are clear on this," he said quoting a rule of business procedure.
As Kurien took up other issues, Congress, SP, JD-U and Left members were up on their feet rejecting the government response. They soon trooped into the Well raising slogans.
"What is the rationale for coming and disturbing the House. This is unjustifiable. This is unnecessary shouting,"Kurien said and urged the members to return to their seats.
Amid sloganeering, Sharad Yadav cited a rule to counter Jaitley for citing a rule that matters pending before court or tribunal could not be raised in the House. "(He) is misleading the House," Yadav said.
Congress members continued to raising slogans.
At one point AIADMK members too trooped in the Well. However, the reason could not be known amid din.
The Deputy Chairman kept asking the protesting members to return to their seats as some members sought to raise Zero Hour issues. "You people are becoming laughing stock before the people and country," Kurien told protesting members.
Towards the end of Zero Hour, the Chair adjourned the House for two minutes.