Monday, March 14, 2016

Sri Sri's World Cultural Festival may "adversely impact" Delhi's groundwater source, Yamuna floodplains

By Our Representative
While the World Cultural Festival organized by Art of Living (AoL) of well-known spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has ended on the banks of Yamuna, there is no end to the controversy surrounding the alleged ecological damage it may have caused to Delhi. Well-known environmentalist Ravi Agrawal has said, “There is a myopic understanding of nature and its destruction that is on display at World Cultural Festival.”
In an interview, Agrawal, who is Director of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO in New Delhi, which has done extensive work and research on the Yamuna floodplains, has said, “The organisers of the World Cultural Festival do not understand wetland ecology. And when they say they haven’t cut any trees, it shows a limited understanding of what constitutes both nature and its destruction.”
Agrawal’s comments acquire significance, as the NGO which he represents has conducted two studies on the river and its floodplains; one on long-term multi-seasonal study on the toxicity in the river, which include the presence of chemicals and heavy metals, and the second, in association with the University of Sussex, to look at the contamination of vegetables grown around the river.”
Agrawal says, “Wetland ecology supports a particular kind of life structure which has an intimate relationship with both the water and the soil. The vegetation in wetlands is very different from the vegetation of a forest, so there are different types of trees that one would see here than in a forest, and animals who are a part of this complex biodiversity.”
Countering the AoL claim that it has used enzymes made by over 10,000 households across the country to clean the river, Agrawal says, “A foreign organism introduced in any ecological system is one of the most harmful things. It’s not like cleaning clothes with a new detergent.” He adds, it would be necessary to carry out “proper clearances and studies to understand which enzymes have to go where.”
Countering the claim that “only eco-friendly materials were used for construction”, Agrawal says, “This is a very delicate ecosphere and the intervention in itself is harmful. So it’s not a question of which material you use, but a matter of constructing in an area, which may not respond well to it.”
“Over and above this you have a large number of footfalls, which are further going to impact the ecology of the region. As a result of this pressure, it is going to take a few years to recover, just like a forest recovers after a fire. The three reasons stated above make it evident that the organisers don’t understand ecology”, Agrawal says.
Pointing out that the floodplain “is a water recharge area”, which is source of “nearly 30 % of Delhi's water”, Agrawal says, “If you do something to the flood plains, you’re reducing the water availability in the city.”
Agrawal underlines, “The Yamuna is a river with very little water in it and has an intensive city of 17 to 20 million people around it who are dependent on its water. Several court orders have been passed to ensure the longevity of the water source.”
According to Agrawal, “This festival is not going to help in the cleaning of the riverbank; it's dead because of sewage that is flowing into the river. Even if they manage the floodplain, the river is not going to get any cleaner because of this event. This mela is not a water filtration plant. The only way the river can be revitalised is by stopping the pollutants at the source.”

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