Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Culture Festival
The World Culture Festival organised by the well-known spiritualist and cult leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his organization, the Art of Living (AOL), kicked off on 11 March in Delhi. The Art of Living website describes the festival thus – “The World Culture Festival celebrations will demonstrate the power of peace by bringing 3.5 million people from around the world together”.
Venue: The World Cultural Festival is being held at the grounds opposite the Mayur Vihar Phase I Metro Station from on 11 to 13 March, 2016. No entry fee is to be charged from participants or visitors. The event is being held between 5 pm and 10 pm on all three days.
What is the World Culture Festival?
The three-day World Cultural Festival organised by the AOL is held as a commemorative event, celebrating the 35th anniversary of the foundation. Various events such as song and dance shows, yoga sessions and meditation camps are being held over these three days. Organisers believe that the event will bring together various cultures and arts in an effort to demonstrate “the power of peace”. The main dignitaries expected to be present at the festival include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the heads of states and political leaders from a number of countries. Apart from culture ministers of various nations, Yousuf Raza Gilani (Prime Minister of Pakistan), Bidhya Devi Bhandari (President of Nepal), and Maithripala Sirisena (President of Sri Lanka) are also expected to be present.
Steeped in Controversy
Despite the superlative intentions declared by the Art of Living Foundation, the World Culture Festival has been steeped in controversy almost since the day it was announced. The main controversy surrounding the festival is the choice of venue. AOL’s decision to hold the festival along the vast and very fertile flood plains of River Yamuna (that flows through the national capital) has alarmed environmentalists. The festival shall be taking up about 1000 acres of irrigable land; The river’s flow has been disrupted and the crops in the area destroyed, complained the environmentalists. The festival has destroyed the ecosystem of the land. 650 portable toilets have been built but no proper waste management system has been put in place. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that the World Culture Festival would not damage the banks of River Yamuna. He added that he intends to develop the venue into an eco-park,
The National Green Tribunal that heard a plea against the organisation of AOL’s World Culture Festival on 10 March did not issue an injunction prohibiting the event. It did, however, slap AOL with a very heavy fine amounting to INR 5 crore as a compensation for the damages caused by the construction work on the marshlands and fertile flood plains of River Yamuna. Media reports say Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has refused to pay the fine, preferring to go to jail instead.
The Delhi Development Authority was also fined INR 5 lakh and the Delhi Pollution Control Board INR1 lakh for sanctioning a go ahead.
Army Involvement Controversy
Another major controversy that the World Culture Festival seems to have landed in, is the deployment of Army to build the 7-acre bridge across the river and to aid in construction of the venue. According to the defence ministry, as per the existing guidelines, a state government may approach the Army to assist civil authorities in such matters. The matter has, however, been slammed by veterans and the media alike.
Delhi Police Has Concerns
Having inspected the stage built across the River Yamuna on 1 March, 2016, Delhi Police raised a number of concerns. The state police is not sure if the stage is sturdy enough to bear the weight of the number of visitors and artists. There are also concerns that the event may end up in chaos and a stampede may ensue. It is also not a secure venue for the Indian Prime Minister to attend given the number of visitors, said the police to the PMO. The police department also complained that stage built across the river lacked a structural stability certificate.
Look at Logistics
Art of Living’s promotional campaign for the World Culture Festival says that about 35 lakh people are expected to attend the celebration. The visitors are expected to arrive from about 155 countries. Estimates of the expenditure on the festival are pegged at about INR 25.63 crore. The information that AOL has provided to Delhi NCR authorities, however, seems to vary sharply. Only 3 lakh visitors will attend, the authorities believe. Thousands of artistes are also slotted to perform at the event on an open air stage. The venue of the World Culture Festival is a large ground, the size of six football grounds. A massive bridge/stage has also been constructed across the Yamuna to hold the artists and a number of guests.
Around 6,000 Delhi Police personnel have been deployed at the World Culture Festival. A special control room has been set up to monitor the events and the venue. About 500 of the policemen will be present in and around the hotel where the international guests and dignitaries will be staying.
To add to the existing woes of World Culture Festival and Art of Living, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted rain on the coming two days that the festival is to be held. Temperatures are also expected to dip, thus spoiling the event. Heavy rains could also lead to major traffic holdups and waterlogging, common as it is in the capital region. Add to it the fact that the PM and many dignitaries are expected to be present at the opening ceremony and one may add security concerns and traffic logjams to mar the event.
70 Theft cases registered during three-day-long World Culture Festival
Amid constant criticism for mocking environmental norms, The World Culture Festival witnessed Delhi Police registering a whopping 70 cases of theft during the three-day event. Additionally, over 30 people, including four women, have reportedly been arrested in cases related to theft of mobile phones, cash, laptops and a Ganesh idol. A majority of people arrested hail from Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.