Friday, March 11, 2016

Sri Sri Ravishankar and Jamuna


Sri Sri Ravishankar and his Art of Living Foundation decided to organise a function on the bank of Jamuna river for three days. A flurry of protests erupted from environmentalists. The matter went to Green Tribunal or Green Court. Petioners wanted the function should be stopped and moved to another venue. While different people had different points of view, for a neutral observer like me, it appeared that the demand to move the festival at the last minute, i.e. three - four days, before inauguration is unfair. Sri Sri has impressive credential of living in harmony with nature. With Sri Sri drawing attention to the river and its sorry state, a lot of benefit would come in all likelihood.  

There are points both for and against organising a festival on the bank of Jamuna. The petitioners claim:

 1. Jamuna flood plain is an area with an ecology that is likely to be damaged with so many footfalls. Water carrying and holding capacity of the area of flood plain will be damaged. 

2. Critics say in the event of a flood we may see devastation comparable to that seen in Chennai or Kashmir. 

3.The flood plains are reservoir of water. By allowing flattening of the plains, by putting permanent structure on the flood plains, we compromise water holding capacity and may face water shortage at the time of crisis. 

4. It has been reported that flow of water has been diverted, natural water bodies on the flood plain has been destroyed. This may also cause water shortage at the time of crisis. 

5. Birds that come to the area have flown away due to felling of trees and by construction activity going on the area in preparation for the festival. 

In response, organisers of the function has the following to say:

1. Organisers of the festival claim the area where they will be working was full of debris. It is the organisers that have cleared the debris at their own initiative and expense. 

2. The organisers also argue that they are working in an area of around 3000 hectares, whereas Jamuna plains are close to 40 square kilometres in the national capital region. 

3. Jamuna in Delhi has become like sewer because of discharge of untreated sewage. So the argument that Jamuna is being polluted by organisers is a bit stretched. 

4. In its present form, no body in his right mind will drink water from Jamuna as long as it is within National Capital Territory of Delhi. 

5. Sri Sri has also said on television that they his organisation has not felled any tree, they have only pruned some of them. 

6. It is important to mention that many festivals happen on flood plains and river beds. Kumbh mela, that attracts at least ten times more number of people and festivities go on for a much longer period, happens on flood plains of ganga. Maramon christian convention happens every year on the bed of river Pampa in Kerala. A full fledged structure has come up on the bed of river Gomati in Lucknow. The structure was erected by another religious organisation. We have never heard any murmur on television or new paper about Maramon convention or structure on the bed of river Gomti, ever. So it brings to attention is the noise all politics designed to embarrass government of India and may be  government of Delhi. 

7. Another point of debate was the use of army to erect pontoon bridge across Jamuna river. Army being a national resource, cannot be used to cater to private festivals. It is important to note that army has been used before to help out organisers of Kumbh mela and common wealth games. A better parallel can be drawn from the fact that army had helped erect bridges for concert of Yanni in Agra in 1997. We have not heard any murmur of protest then. More recently, an airforce property was used in Bangalore for Benny Hinn convention, an evalengical activity.

The matter has gone to green court. The tribunal agreed to let Sri Sri have his function after paying a fine of 5 crore rupees. I think, this is a good judgment given so many followers of Sri Sri from India and abroad have desended in Delhi. So stopping the festival at this time would put so many people in great inconvenience. This may also mean that we are a disorganised bunch that cannot arrange a gathering well. 

At the same time, critics and petioners say this judgement has created a precedence. Now anybody and everybody can ask for permission to hold function on Jamnua flood plain. Authorities may not have any moral right to decline permission to them. 

In a rule based civilised society, we must accept the verdict pronounced by a court. In this context, green court of India has declared Jamuna flood plains beyond reach for an activity. So to be fair, one must follow rule of law and accept this verdict. I think  Sri Sri should have done his home work before applying for permission to hold function on the Jamuna bed. I think Sri Sri is wrong in attempting to organise a function in an area declared out of bounds by the court.

It is true that Sri Sri and his team had applied for permission. It is  the responsibility of government and its machinery to check for rules and regulations before granting permission. It that decision is found to be wrong, one cannot penalise an applicant by withdrawing permission just a few days before function. There must be a date after which, it is a point of no return and, no complaint will be entertained. I think court has acted in the most balanced manner possible and tried to minimise damage to all parties. They have asked Sri Sri to pay a fine that may be used to restore the area and create a biodiversity park. Finally, prime minister in his inaugural speech has said "if we keep denigrating everything that is Indian, then why would world look at us."
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