Days after drama and controversies, the World Culture Festival being organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation on the Yamuna riverbed in Delhi was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.

Without naming anyone in particular, Modi said, “If you start criticising everything, why should world look at us.” He said, “The World Culture Festival is like the Kumbh Mela of art and cultures.” He added, “Through Art of Living, the world has got to know about India. I remember a reception by Art of Living family in Mongolia where Indian flag was waved.”

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar responded to the controversies, saying, “Yes, this is a private party, because the entire world is my family… When you want to do something great, there will be obstacles.”

The 3-day mega event was embroiled in controversy till the very last moment before the National Green Tribunal gave it a green signal. But not before the organisers submitted Rs 25 lakh, part of the Rs 5 crore fine imposed by the green tribunal. The court has given three weeks time to the Art of Living to pay the remaining sum. The organisers had told the NGT that they had spent Rs 25.63 crore for the event.

Just before the event began, heavy rain and hailstorm added to the disorder at the huge venue spreading across 1000 acres. All roads leading to the venue witnessed bumper-to-bumper traffic and with reports of hundreds of weddings in the city tonight, commuters are set to face a harrowing time.

“Traffic is heavy on Noida Link Road and NH-24 in the carriageway going towards Nizamuddin Khatta. Kindly avoid the stretch,” said a tweet of the Delhi Traffic Police.

The event was surrounded by mutliple controversies. While the Opposition raised questions over the deployment of the Army to contruct pontoon bridges at the venue, several top invitees pulled out of the festival adding to the embarrassment for the organisers.

Earlier this week, President Pranab Mukherjee, who was to preside over the valedictory function, opted out. Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe decided to return home from New Delhi on Thursday. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah, have also decided to give the event a miss.

While the organisers expect 35 lakh people to attend the function, concerns have been raised by experts about the likely damage to the environment that may be caused by holding it on the flood plains of the already polluted Yamuna river.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living, however, has defended holding the event, saying that he would have received a red carpet welcome in any other country for holding such a culture fest.

Sri Sri also rejected claims that the event will disturb the ecological balance of Yamuna flood plains.  “37,000 artists are going to perform, lakhs of people are going to attend. Which closed auditorium can host such a huge event?” Sri Sri said.

“We will assure that the place will be as clean, as bio-diverse as it was before. In 2010, we launched a campaign ‘meri Dilli, meri Yamuna’,  to clean the river. We removed tonnes of filth from the river. We have so much passion for Yamuna, how could anybody think we could damage the river?” he told India Today.


(India Today)

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