World Culture Festival: Sri Sri should be thanked for drawing national attention to river Yamuna's sorry state

It is only during the later part of rainy season when huge amounts of water is released from UP that one is reminded of river Yamuna that flows past Delhi. The only other time its existence is discussed is when Poorvanchali social cultural organisations, with some support from Delhi government, does some cosmetic cleaning. They put up tents and such other facilities for Chatt Puja.

For the rest of the year, Yamuna in Delhi is a big chocking drain. No one cares about the pollution. There have been no visible exercise to clean the river, either by the self-proclaimed environmentalists or by the government.

Waste being dumped in the Yamuna river. File photo. AFP

Waste being dumped in the Yamuna river. File photo. AFP

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should be thanked for inviting the nation's attention to river Yamuna and its pollution, discussions on which have rarely come up.

The spiritual guru should also be complimented for making Arvind Kejriwal forget his differences with Narendra Modi government at the centre, or vice-versa, and for making them work in close coordination. That's a welcome development, even if the truce is temporary. At least a new beginning has been made.

The spiritual guru's decision to hold a three-day long 'World Culture Festival' between 11-13 March and make the venue on the Yamuna river bank (officially part of Mayur Vihar Phase-I) seem fit for staging the Olympic Games hasn't gone down well with environmentalists, media, ordinary denizens or the National Green Tribunal.

Sri Sri is an international celebrity. After all, it's not within the competence of an ordinary mortal to organise an event of this scale — a dais spread over acres, a makeshift stadium bigger than the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, six pontoon bridges over Yamuna (for which he got help from the army) so that VVIPs including the Prime Minister may reach the venue, half a dozen clearances from various government agencies. His arrangements include provision for an estimated 35 lakh people who will be at the festival and participants from 155 countries.

An event of this scale organised by someone who is perceived to be close to Modi and the ruling BJP would obviously make big news.

Critics are well within their rights to criticise the use of army for building one pontoon bridge and erecting temporary structures beyond the permitted area.

But the obsessive focus on the environmental aspect, degradation of Yamuna ecology and its bio-diversity is a bit rich.

It is not as if Sri Sri's event has destroyed the pristine precincts of Yamuna. It's not as if hordes of tourists frequent the river banks for its flora and fauna. Truth is, these are among the most polluted sites of the country and until the Art of Living foundation decided to organise the event, no one gave even the slightest attention to it.

Consider the current state of Yamuna — the air conditioning systems of Delhi Metro coaches which cross the Yamuna every day and those that are parked at the banks suffer severe damage due to toxic gases produced by a heavily polluted Yamuna.

My colleague Tarique Anwar in Firstpost, quoting Delhi Metro officials and experts, reported how not just rail coaches but the AC units in residential and commercial complexes around Yamuna too are badly affected, so are the respiratory system of those living in close vicinity of the river. “There is no oxygen in the Yamuna, just sewage.

Toxic fumes, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, emanating from the polluted water corrodes metals,” DD Basu, senior scientist, Central Pollution Control Board was quoted as saying in the report.

“The toxic gases damage the coating on the condenser joints of the AC system, which in turn causes leakage of coolant gas,” said DMRC director (operations) Rajkumar.

"Condenser systems of 350 coaches on lines 3 (Dwarka-Noida City Centre) and 4 (Yamuna Bank-Vaishali) and of 100 out of 200 coaches on line 1 (Dilshad Garden-Rithala) have been replaced", Rajkumar was quoted, as saying.

Yamuna has six bridges over it connecting east Delhi and Noida to central Delhi, two rail bridges and one metro bridge. The number is only going to increase. Each such construction obviously has its own side effect.

From Wazirabad in north-east where Yamuna enters Delhi to Okhla in south where Delhi's boundary ends, 15 main drains enter Yamuna, all to pollute it even further.
Drive down any of these bridges and the extent of unauthorised constructions — both semi-pucca and pucca — would be visible to anyone. No environmentalist has ever raised their voice so far.

The entire Commonwealth Games village was built over the river bed. No hue and cry was made about it; at least no one remembers whether it made non-stop live TV coverage or newspaper banner headlines.

Taking on Ravi Shankar and the proposed World Cultural Festival is the easiest route to big publicity. Taking on a Suresh Kalmadhi or a MS Gill (for constructing Commonwealth games villages) obviously didn't make much political sense. Akshardham Temple, too, is built on the river bed, a destination which has helped Delhi enhance its pride.

Beyond the obvious attempts at political point-scoring, if there are any environmental concerns to be raised, it should be addressed by competent authorities after the event is over. If it is found that Sri Sri's event did everlasting damage, he and his foundation should face corrective and penal action.

The environmentalists should also list out what of flora and fauna, marine life is being destroyed by the event. It's not clear whether the festival will cause any permanent damage to the soil. Proof of that or even a substantive argument is missing so far.

Updated Date: Mar 10, 2016 19:33 PM

Also See