Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Art of Living (Irresponsibly)

The Art of Living Foundation decides to organize a World Culture Festival. The venue they choose is the the ecologically sensitive area along the banks of the Yamuna river, between Delhi and NOIDA.
The space required for the event - a staggering 1000 acres of marshland along the riverbank. The stage itself is expected to have an area of 7 acres. And an 3.5 million people are expected to storm into the Capital over three days.

The 1000 acres consisting primarily of shrubs and grass, is reported to have been reportedly  flattened, with most of the flora and fauna destroyed. This is in preparation of the event. What will happen when 3.5 million people attend the festival? All of them will eat, litter, use the area to urinate and defecate, and pollute the environment to an extent that is only left to imagination. What will happen to the already congested roads when the additional traffic burden related to 3.5 million additional people hits the City?

This scenario brings to focus many issues. 

One, is there any semblance of law enforcement related to environment in this Country? (If this is the state of affairs in the National Capital, one shudders to think what would be happening in smaller metros, towns and villages). Can any Organisation - Government or private take the liberty of deciding to upset a protected and environmentally sensitive area to organise an event of this scale, without fear of consequence?

Second is this Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's idea of the Art of Living? When environmentalists argued that using the floodplains of the Yamuna would cause irreparable damage, he called it "the biggest joke of the year" He has conveniently ignored that the event has no police or fire safety clearances.There are bridges, towers, dirt tracks and automobile parking areas in a "no construction"zone. For a Guru who preaches on the importance of moral and social values in life, such blatant disregard for the laws related to the environment (by the Guru's own admission - a few trees have been 'trimmed'), and the ethical consideration of putting to risk a protected zone, and inconveniencing the citizens and State agencies, for a private affair, just brings out the hypocrisy of the 'Guru' and his followers.

Last but not the least, is the issue of calling in the Army to help organize this event in the form of building pontoon bridges within the area, and conducting security related jobs. 
The role of the Army is to defend the frontiers of the Country. The Army Regulations state that the Army may be called for duties other than guarding the borders - like helping the civil authorities to maintain law and order, providing aid to civil authorities in times of a natural calamity or disaster such as earthquake or floods, and lastly "for any other duty that the Govt. may deem fit to call the Army". It is this last clause of the rule book that the Government has latched on to, and used, in this case. 

The other question is - why is the Ministry of Defence (read The Defence Minister) going out of this way to provide explanations that are 'lame' to say the least. The argument that it is only the Army that can be relied upon to ensure security of 3.5 million people is laughable. In other words, the Delhi Police, the CRPF, Rapid Action Force, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (a para military force of UP), the Home Guards or even the BSF, are collectively a bunch of incompetent Forces. If that is true, why do they exist? 

Exercising discretionary powers to call the Army to help organize a private event  is setting a very dangerous precedent.Tomorrow the Army could be called to organize political rallies or meetings, but the ruling Government. And this is just one example. The question then arises if the Govt. exercises its discretion to use this last clause, where is the line going to be drawn?

The damage caused by this event will be irreversible, and the extent will only be known in the aftermath. Who will be accountable? Can the damage be compensated by a fine of few crores Rupees paid by the Art of Living Foundation? 

And does the Government of the day have a moral stand on this serious issue? Isn't it serious enough for the Prime Minister to set an example, exercise his authority and come out openly rather than sit on the fence to see and decide on whether he inaugurates the event or stays away from it depending upon what the National Green Tribunal has to say?