Indian spiritual festival caused damage to sacred river that could take 10 years to repair

Indian spiritual festival caused damage to sacred river that could take 10 years to repair
India’s environmental watchdog has concluded that a spiritual festival held in the country last March caused more than $6 million worth of damage to the Yamuna River that could take a decade to fix.

An expert panel, established in 2010, was appointed by India’s National Green Tribunal to investigate. The group concluded in its report released Wednesday, that the Art of the Living Foundation’s World Cultural festival held last year had destroyed the bed of the Yamuna river – considered sacred by Hindus – and adversely affected 170 hectares of surrounding floodplains.

The report pointed to the construction of roads, ramps and a massive seven-acre stage for the three-day spiritual extravaganza as the cause of the extensive damage to the river, which just last month was granted the same rights as humans in a bid to tackle pollution of the fragile eco-system.

The event was hosted by one of India’s top Guru’s, Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and was attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of other high ranking political figures despite criticism from environmental activists. A ruling from India’s top environmental court had also restricted construction along the river, more than a year before investigators visited the site in February of last year, which landed the organisers with a hefty $740,000 fine.

The massive event, which featured yoga sessions, performances and prayers was attended by some 3.5 million people and left the area “completely destroyed, not simply damaged” the Hindustan Times cited the report as saying.

“The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation. 

“Huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps for access from the DND flyover and from the two pontoon bridges across the Barapulla drain,” the study said.

The panel also concluded that the floodplain had lost “almost all its natural vegetation” which affected the natural habitat of a diverse number of animals, insects and other organisms.

However, the findings were rejected as “unscientific and biased” by the Art of the Living Foundation.  

“We have been victims of a conspiracy. And we will fight for the truth to come out,” NDTV reports the foundation as saying. “We have never caused any damage to the environment but have in fact worked for preserving and reviving it through various environment-related projects over the years,” they added.

Despite the Tribunal's findings, Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra has invited Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to organise the festival again and at the same venue.