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Opposition raises stink over Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Yamuna cultural event
Wednesday March 9, 2016 2:16 PM, IANS

New Delhi: Clamor grew louder on Wednesday against Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's cultural mega-extravaganza on the ecologically sensitive Yamuna floodplains with the opposition questioning how the government deployed the Indian Army to construct pontoon bridges for the event that has also triggered environmental concerns.

Opposition members shouted slogans in the Rajya Sabha and demanded Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to reply how the army was involved helping the three-day private event that begins on Friday.

The "World Culture Festival", organised by the Art of Living Foundation, is awaiting a nod from a Delhi green court, which is expected to give its verdict later Wednesday over the pleas seeking its cancellation.

The mega-event marks 35 years of the foundation run by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar -- a spritual guru for many, and considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.

The protesting members raised a stink in the Rajya Sabha over how the foundation was allowed to hold the event -- expected to draw some three lakh people -- that threatens the fragile Yamuna.

"There is this person (Ravi Shankar) who is saying he is doing a cultural festival, and you put the army there to construct bridges. The government should shut this down immediately. In 1,000 acres, they are doing this. It will destroy Yamuna," Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav said.

Some other opposition members got up and started shouting slogans "Save army" and "Rakhsa mantri jawaab do" demanding that the defence minister respond to their protests.

As the ruckus grew louder, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury alleged that it was "highly irregular" that the services of the Indian Army are being used for such an event.

"Can the Indian Army be roped in to build pontoon bridges? It is highly irregular that the army is summoned to create facility for a private function," Yechury said.

Congress member M.S. Gill echoed the concerns. "How can you send the army to build bridge?"

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad questioned why an environmental clearance was not taken before the Delhi government gave the event a green signal.

"The question arises what about the environment, biodiversity and ecology in the country," Azad said.

Azad also said that there were fears of stampede and terror threats. "Is it also not true that Delhi Police has warned of stampede and chaos. Also we hear every day Pakistan has sensitised the government of India that some terrorists have come... The police has also informed whether security angle has been taken in account."

The government tried to defend the event as well as the deployment of army personnel. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the army was involved from a security point of view.

"As we talk, green tribunal is hearing the issue. The whole programme is taking place with proper permission," Naqvi said.

He said that Ravi Shankar's intention cannot be doubted as "he has started mission for cleaning Ganga and Yamuna".

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is Leader of the House, said it was not proper to raise the issue in the Rajya Sabha when a tribunal is hearing the case.

"Rule 69 makes it absolutely clear that when a tribunal is hearing cannot be raised," Jaitley said. The opposition accused the finance minister of misleading the house because such a ruling pertains to criminal and civil cases and not those related to environment.

Peace returned to the house after members re-assembled following a two-minute adjournment over the noisy scenes.

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