Military veterans are slamming the use of Indian Army soldiers for building bridges over the river Yamuna to please a godman as “illegal”, “shameful” and a “rot in governance.” CNN IBN reports of a terror threat at the venue and The Indian Express says Delhi Police has warned of “pandemonium.” The Indian Army on its toes for a godman? Really?!
Around 4:30 am Wednesday IST, Delhi resident Vimlendu Jha, who has opposed the event, posted a video on his Facebook page where a Hindu Mahasabha leader with a flowing beard and dressed in an orange kurta is threatening to kill Jha, calls him a CIA agent and also anti-national, dragging the #JNURow pet phrases across the Yamuna.
Links: World Culture Festival website
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that Army soldiers’ deployment for construction of pontoon bridges over Yamuna river for the controversial three-day ‘World Culture Festival’ being organised by Goodman Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation is to ensure safety but Delhi’s cops have drilled a hole into that argument. The Indian Express reports that Delhi Police has written to the Urban Development Ministry warning of “utter chaos and pandemonium.”
Parrikar said the decision to employ soldiers for the construction of the bridges was taken to ensure there is no law and order situation and security threat to lakhs of people expected to attend the three-day event starting from Friday.
Former military officials reject the explanations given by the minister arguing that that defence forces are meant for protecting country from external security threats.
Sri Sri Ravishankar. Image courtesy: Facebook
“Sending 120 soldiers of the Army to Yamuna floodplains to build bridges for a private cultural extravaganza is absolutely wrong and illegal. The provision of the Army in aid of civil authority is governed by Section 130 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code). This legal clause states that decision to requisition armed forces should be taken by the ‘executive magistrate of the highest rank’, which is the district magistrate, not even the chief minister. And he or she can do it under emergency circumstances such as riots and natural calamities when his or her police force cannot do a particular job,” former IAS officer MG Devasahayam, who has served a stint in the Army, told Firstpost.
It is alarming, he said, that the government is going out of its way to help a controversial programme, which organisers claim will be attended by 3.5 million people, which may cause permanent environmental damage.
“The event has come under scanner of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which looks after environmental issues. Even the President, the supreme commander of the defence forces, who was to preside over the valedictory function, has refused to attend it. In such a situation, facilitation of such programme is a sign of rotten governance that is going on in the country,” he added.
The president had earlier agreed to attend the opening ceremony on 11 March but later opted out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi may also not take part in the event on the pretext of “security threat”.
Asked when the Army has been used during Kumbh Mela and even the Commonwealth Games, then why such a hue and cry this time, Major General (retired) Satbir Singh said the defence forces have got a clear cut task to defend the country from external and internal security threats. They are also called to aid the civil authorities in case of natural disasters.
“Our soldiers are not meant for such shit. It is a compromise with the dignity of the country’s defence forces. It is a shame that the government is giving undeserved public resources to an individual in return of his political support,” he added.
Colonel (retired) Pushpendra Singh also strongly condemned the decision and said that the “Army should not be deployed for any such function. It is meant to secure borders”.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) defended its permission to the event before an NGT bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar. “Heavens will not fall if the function is organised at the venue. We can see what needs to be done to restore the area, but today we are at the threshold of the ceremony,” the DDA is reported to have told the NGT.
As he faced criticism for destroying Yamuna, Art of Living chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar sought to placate fears. “I want Yamuna to be clean. We have not cut any tree, some trees have been trimmed only,” he said, adding that his foundation will leave the spot as “a beautiful bio-diversity park”.
On Monday, as pictures of soldiers working on the Yamuna bridge for the event began to circulate, President and Supreme Commander of the Army, Pranab Mukherjee, said he will not attend the World Culture Festival.
An online campaign entitled ‘Don’t destroy the #Yamuna Floodplains – Shift the Art of Living Festival’ on Change.org has so far got 19,545 signatures. The signed petition, which says, “Sri Sri, please stop killing my already dead Yamuna, I beg! Destroying the floodplains is not ‘cultural’, not ‘spiritual’”, will be sent to the president, the prime minister, the chief justice of India, the chairman of the NGT, the chief minister of Delhi and the Art of Living Foundation.
In its journey of 1376 km from Yamunotri to Allahabad, 22 km of river Yamuna flows through Delhi. Ironically, this journey of 22 km through the most powerful city of the nation is primarily responsible for choking the river. What enters the city as a revered river unfortunately exits as a drain, a dead water body. Amidst this chaotic ecosystem, floodplains come forth as the only hope for survival of the river.
“As the integral part of the aquatic system of any river, floodplains are the natural space for the river to dissipate its energy. A river with vulnerable and damaged floodplains is one step closer to death, to say the least, it adds,” reads the petition.
Unfortunately, the floodplains of Yamuna in Delhi have already been injured with mega constructions. Akshardham temple, Delhi Transport Corporation’s Depot, Common Wealth Games Village, main office of the Delhi Metro, to name a few, are technically on the floodplains of the Yamuna.
These constructions, however, stand proud and tall despite the NGT orders that restrain any construction, be it temporary or permanent, on the floodplain of the river Yamuna in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It is Zone O, which means its ecologically sensitive zone and therefore no construction should be allowed in this area.
While the river struggles to flow, preparations are in full swing to organise the mega event on the floodplains. The event venue is spread over 1,000 acres of floodplain. The area is within 10 km of the Okhla Birds Sanctuary.
(With FP Staff)