Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu has offered a strong defense of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s mega-festival that opens tomorrow in Delhi amid environmental concerns. “Anything that is Hindu, India, Bharatiya, you object,” Mr Naidu said in response to the opposition Congress which says the government has abdicated its environmental responsibility by sanctioning the banks of the River Yamuna as the venue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has confirmed he will attend the opening of the “World Culture Festival” tomorrow, though President Pranab Mukherjee dropped out earlier this week. “The prestige of the entire country is at stake,” Mr Naidu said, stressing that “Nearly 35 world leaders are expected.”
India’s environmental watchdog, the National Green Tribunal, has ordered Sri Sri’s Art of Living Foundation to deposit a fine of five-crores ahead of the event. The 59-year-old guru told NDTV today that, “We will go to jail but will not pay a penny…we have done nothing wrong.” The green court has said the organisers have till tomorrow to pay the money, warning that otherwise, “the law will take its own course.”
In Parliament yesterday, the Congress led the opposition’s attack on the government over the event that encompasses 1,000 acres on the Yamuna’s floodplains; activists allege the precinct’s delicate ecosystem will be irreversibly hurt by the temporary construction and the lakhs of attendees. The government was also asked why the army has been used to construct floating or pontoon bridges over the rivers.
Mr Naidu was unequivocal in declaring that the event, which will include meditation sessions, music performances and prayers by Sanskrit scholars, deserves government support. “Ravi Shankar is from India so you have objections,” the minister said, targeting Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. “You went to an Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon concert and now you are objecting to a world cultural event,” he said, referring to Mr Gandhi’s recent visit to Jawaharlal Nehru University amid a major controversy over whether students there made seditious remarks while questioning the hanging of two convicts of terror attacks.
Critics claim that Sri Sri’s alleged proximity to the Prime Minister, with whom he has meditated, has meant his festival was given all sorts of exemptions from green clearances that should have been mandatory for an event of this scale, given its location.
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