India festival at Yamuna to go ahead amid green concerns

Workers lay carpet on the steps of a stage at the venue of World Culture Festival on the banks of the river Yamuna in New Delhi, India, March 8, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The three-day festival begins on Friday

India's environment watchdog has said a controversial cultural festival on the floodplains of Delhi's main river can go ahead if the organisers pay a fine of 50m rupees ($744,262; £523,172).

The three-day festival, beginning on Friday, is organised by influential spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Organisers say 3.5 million visitors are expected to attend from 150 countries.

Environmentalists warn that the event on the Yamuna banks will cause lasting damage to the area's biodiversity.

They had petitioned the National Green Tribunal to cancel it.

During its two-day hearing, the tribunal had posed tough questions to the government, asking them how they could allow such massive construction on the floodplains.

On Wednesday, the government also faced protests in the parliament with the opposition parties questioning why the event was being allowed on the river bed and why was the army roped in to help with organising a private festival.

The World Culture Festival would be held across 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of the river bank and would feature a seven-acre stage for 35,000 musicians and dancers.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Organisers say 3.5 million visitors are expected to attend from 150 countries
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Army soldiers have been roped in to construct temporary bridges on the Yamuna river

According to the invitation cards issued by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to attend the festival opening and President Pranab Mukherjee is to be present at the closing ceremony.

After complaints from the green activists, Mr Mukherjee pulled out from the event. It is still not clear whether the prime minister would be attending the event or not.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a modern-day spiritual icon among many in India's middle and upper classes.

He also has a massive fan-base globally and his foundation runs yoga and spiritual centres in many parts of the world.