Indian cultural festival fined for building at Yamuna River

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2016 2:53 AM

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's environmental watchdog fined a group headed by a Hindu spiritual leader 50 million rupees ($740,000) for building features that altered the topography and flow of a river in India's capital before a major cultural festival this weekend.

The National Green Tribunal ruled it would allow the Art of Living Foundation to hold the festival on payment of the fine, which the group's leader refused.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who founded his group in 1982, said he would challenge the tribunal's order in an appeals court. "We have done nothing wrong. I will go to jail but not pay the fine," he told reporters, adding that his group would clean the riverbanks and leave no debris after the festival.

The tribunal issued the verdict late Wednesday in response to petitions filed by environmentalists who say the roads, ramps and pontoon bridges could cause irreversible damage to the Yamuna floodplains.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the festival Friday, but the president's office said President Pranab Mukherjee would not attend the closing ceremony on Sunday. The festival is expected to be attended by millions and will showcase performances by thousands of musicians and dancers.

The Yamuna River is a small tributary of the Ganges that swells during monsoon rains. Hindus bathe in the river during religious festivals, but not many people swim there.

The water looks dark with a foul smell, and officials say it is tainted with sewage and industrial pollution. The river water is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi's nearly 18 million residents as drinking water.

The Art of Living organized a similar festival in 2011 in Berlin that saw visitors from all around the world.