Suspense mounted on Tuesday over the fate of the controversial three-day cultural extravaganza on the Yamuna flood plains with the National Green Tribunal posing tough questions on the event over which environmentalists have raised a banner of revolt.
While President Pranab Mukherjee pulled out of attending the valedictory function on Sunday, speculation raged today over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the event on Friday.
Facing criticism, Art of Living Foundation chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar rubbished allegations of any damage to ecology saying no tree has been felled and that they would build a biodiversity park in the area.
Amid concerns over security in the wake of fresh terror threats, the Home Ministry has directed Delhi Police to take all possible steps to ensure peace during the event and to
ensure that no stampede-like situation arises.
All eyes were on the proceedings before the National Green Tribunal which questioned the Centre as to why no environmental clearance is required for erecting structures on the Yamuna plains for the event.
"You (MoEF) file an affidavit by tomorrow and tell us why no environmental clearance is needed for raising temporary structures on flood plains," a bench headed by NGT chairperson
Swantanter Kumar said.
The direction came after the counsel appearing for Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) said that they have found no debris at the site when an expert team had visited
and as per Environment Impact Assessment notification 2006, no environment clearance is needed for temporary structures.
The green panel also questioned the building of pontoon bridge by the army on the river bed for the festival and asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel as to who gave the permission for setting it up.
DDA, Delhi government, MoEF said that they have no role in the grant of permission for setting up the pontoon bridge.
The NGT said it will pronounce its order tomorrow.
Counsel for the Delhi Government said that the Disaster Management Authority has granted permission to the event only conditionally while no permission has been granted by police
and the fire department.
During the hearing, DDA said that the plea seeking stay of construction activity was filed with a delay after activity had started at the site and it needs to be dismissed.
It said that constant watch is being maintained that no debris or municipal waste is being dumped in Yamuna flood plains and a running contractor is there to remove the debris,
if any dumped.
The bench then said that DDA just can't wash its hand off by saying no debris is there as the photographs on record does show the presence of waste at the site.
The authorities also passed the buck to each other over the pontoon bridge with the DDA submitting that it was only required to give no objection certificate for the bridge and Delhi government saying its role comes only at the time of flood. MoEF passed the buck on Ministry of Water Resources.
Advocate Rajiv Bansal appearing for DDA backed the authority's decision to grant permission for the event saying that it has given the nod with conditions that no permanent construction will be permitted without permission from the competent authority.
Art of Living (AOL) in its submission said that it had taken the requisite permissions from all the authorities except from the police which is subject to permission from fire department and they have fulfilled all the conditions.
The bench, asked the counsel whether thousands of cars making emission will not cause pollution to the environment.
It asked all the parties to consider the impact of the such a event on the environment, river, ecology and biodiversity.
Meanwhile, environmentalists raised the red flag ruing that over 1000-acres of the sensitive area between Delhi and Noida, predominantly marshland, stand shorn of even a "single blade" of grass.
Activist Anand Arya, who filed the petition to stop the event claimed not only the areas natural "undulating" terrain has been "levelled", pesticides have been sprayed in the floodplain to kill mosquitoes which has adversely affected the lives of a variety of birds, insects and reptiles.
"It's a big loss to the birds especially considering that it's the time for reverse migration. During the day they come from the Okhla bid sanctuary to the floodplain to roost and
feed. On top of that, you have light pollution during the night," Arya said.
Another petitioner Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan questioned the "legality" of the event, and said the area, being destroyed "every moment", will take a long time to
recover and slammed the organisers for the "lack of understanding" on their part.
"The natural habitat has been totally devastated. It's the biggest form of violence one can imagine. The red beeds, marshlands have been levelled which house insects and reptiles. The argument that they will plant trees is laughable. You don't plant trees in marshlands," Mishra said.
Ravi Shankar cancelled a scheduled press conference he was to address without giving any reasons.
Earlier in the day, he told the media that his organisation will leave the place after building a
"In the past, our volunteers have brought out 512 tonne of garbage from Yamuna. We have not cut any trees, have just trimmed four. We want a clean Yamuna and we care about the
environment," he said.