The NGT on Tuesday questioned the Centre as to why no environmental clearance is needed for constructing temporary structures on Yamuna plains as building of pontoon bridge by army for cultural festival comes under the scanner of NGT. This was during a hearing on pleas seeking the cancellation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living three-day 'World Culture Festival' on the Yamuna flood plains to celebrate 35 years of the foundation.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar heard the matter in which the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Uttar Pradesh and Delhi government made their submissions with regard to grant of permission to the festival.
On 3 March, DDA had submitted that it had granted conditional permission for organising the event and had no idea about the magnitude of the programme. The event later drew criticism after some activists petitioned the NGT, a quasi-judicial body on environmental issues, asking it to stop the event as it would have a deep impact on the Yamuna flood plains.
The DDA backed its decision to grant permission for the festival, while the Art of Living said it has fulfilled all conditions and taken requisite permissions for the event.
“We’ll leave it as a beautiful bio-diversity park. As per my knowledge, not even a single tree has been cut down, we've only trimmed four trees. We want the Yamuna to be clean. We will not pollute the environment. We haven't cut a single tree,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar reacting to the criticism over army men construction the pontoon bridge, reports DNA.
Meanwhile, a source close to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told IANS said the Indian Army's decision to make pontoon bridges for the upcoming event was taken after Delhi Police expressed a fear of stampede at the venue, where around 30 lakh people are expected.
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.
Earlier on Monday, President Pranab Mukherjee decided to pull out of a cultural extravaganza being organised by Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as a controversy raged over the event.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the event on Friday and the President was to attend the valedictory function on Sunday.
"The President cannot attend the function due to unavoidable circumstances," an official of the Rashtrapati Bhavan said on Monday.
The NGT will resume its hearing on Wenesday on holding of the festival.
The AOL Foundation expects 35 lakh people to attend the function, concerns have been raised by experts about the likely damage to the environment that may be caused by holding it on the flood plains of the already polluted river in east Delhi.
The AOL foundation, which is organising the function, will have yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers by Sanskrit scholars and traditional cultural performances from around the world.
The three-day event will be held from 11-13 March.
With inputs from agencies