NEW DELHI (AP) — An expert panel appointed by India's top environmental watchdog has said that damage caused by a cultural festival held on the banks of the Yamuna River a year ago would need at least a decade to be fixed.
The panel set up by the National Green Tribunal after the Art of Living Foundation's World Culture Festival said Wednesday that restoring the river banks would cost around 420 million rupees ($6.5 million). It said construction of roads, ramps and a massive stage for the three-day spectacle damaged vast tracts of the river's flood plains.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and top Delhi government officials attended the festival hosted by Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar despite criticism from environmental activists about damage to the river banks. The festival to mark the 35th anniversary of the Art of Living Foundation drew some 3.5 million visitors who came to see thousands of singers, dancers and other performers.
People filed complaints to the tribunal almost immediately after construction began, but much of the damage was already done and the tribunal allowed the organizers to go ahead with the event. It did issue an immediate fine of 50 million rupees ($740,000).
Afterward, the watchdog set up the panel comprising environmental engineers and biodiversity experts to assess the impact that the festival had. In their report, the experts said that an area comprising around 170 hectares (420 acres) had been "completely" destroyed and not simply damaged.
"The ground is now totally levelled, compacted and hardened and is totally devoid of water bodies or depressions and almost completely devoid of any vegetation," the panel said.
The Yamuna is one of the main tributaries of the Ganges River.
Art of Living Foundation has dismissed the findings of the panel as biased. The foundation was a "responsible and environment-sensitive NGO" that has consistently worked to preserve and revive the environment, Kedar Desai, a spokesman said.