World Culture Festival: Farmers claim AOL event damaged Yamuna floodplains, destroyed their livelihood

New Delhi: A day after the controversial World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplain came to an end, farmers living on its banks said the event destroyed their living and claimed it will take at least two years to make the flattened riverbed suitable for cultivation.

As the authorities began removing garbage from over 100 acres of land where the stage and stands were erected besides other temporary structures, the landless farmers said the compensation given to them was "too little" and that the event, organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation extensively damaged Yamuna's eco-system.

They said bulldozing of the land for the event has caused extensive damage to the riverbed as it disrupted water flow significantly.

World Culture Festival: Farmers claim AOL event damaged Yamuna floodplains, destroyed their livelihood

File image of preparations for the World Culture Festival. Firstpost/Naresh Sharma

Farmer Chote Lal Chowdhary, 50, claimed his 12 bigha land on which he grew vegetables and flowering plants, was destroyed completely but despite that he was given a "very small compensation".

"They destroyed the vegetables which were ready to be harvested for building access roads to the event venue. Per bigha produce would have fetched me at least Rs 50,000. But I have been paid just Rs 10,000. Nobody discussed or spoke to us. They threatened us with police action when we tried to protest," said Chowdhury.

He said he had been growing vegetables there for many years on contract basis.

Kamla Devi, who also claimed her five bigha land was damaged, said, "I stood in front of the JCB machine, I told them to stop but my land was bulldozed. This is not justice. On one side you talk about spreading happiness and peace, forget about peace or happiness in our lives, you are snatching away our livelihood," she said.

However, Art of Living Foundation rubbished the allegations, saying those whose land was taken for the festival were given adequate compensation and that their plots were used with their consent.

"We have paid Rs 20,000 compensation per acre just for this event. We had also given them shops. We had also taken signatures from those whose farmlands were used for the purpose and also compensated them. In fact many people were agitated why their land was not taken for purpose," said Sanjay Kumar, spokesperson AOL.

As these landless farmers rued loss of their crops, the local villagers said they wanted the lighting facility to continue on the river bed.

"We have been writing to Delhi Government since Shiela Dikshit was the chief minister for lights in the vicinity. But nothing has happened till now.

"It is so dark here after sunset. Because of the event, these lamp posts were set up, but what after the event? You claim to bring light to the lives of people, we need lights here to carry out the basic day-to-day chores when it gets dark," said Ram.

The AOL Foundation has promised to develop a bio-doversity park at the venue. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had asked AOL to pay Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation.

The three-day cultural extravaganza was attended by thousands of people and delegates from a number of countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended the opening of the event on Friday but President Pranab Mukherjee had pulled out of it due to the controversies surrounding the festival.


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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2016 19:30:38 IST

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