“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 experts say in a 47-page report. The damage was created from the three-day event that featured performances on a seven-acre stage that was attended by scores of people in the hundreds of thousands.
The floodplain has lost “almost all its natural vegetation,” the report said, like trees, shrubs, tall grasses and aquatic vegetation including water hyacinth crucial to the survival of a large number of animals and organisms.
“These organisms were rendered homeless, driven away by intense activity and many were consigned to graves under the debris. This is invisible loss of biodiversity which cannot be easily assessed and most may never be able to return,” the report said.
The seven experts were selected by the country’s National Green Tribunal to assess the impact of the festival, which was held in March despite publicly voiced concerns about the riverbanks delicate ecosystem. On the condition the group promoting the festival paid five crores against the damage, Art of Living was permitted to continue.
After surveying the area, the experts have noted that a “huge amount of earth and debris have been dumped to construct the ramps.”
Additionally, the experts said there has been a change in the topography of the riverbed as a result of the event. “Construction of ramps and roads, filling up of water bodies and leveling of the ground together with compaction have almost completely eliminated the natural physical features and the diversity of habitats.”
Sri Sri has since said the riverbed was left in “better condition than we found it.” The opening of the event was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi; President Pranab Mukherjee dropped out.
“Whatever has been stated by this expert committee holds no water,” his response read. “Considering these and more such facts, it is clear that the intent of the committee is to merely malign the name of The Art of Living. The kind of evidence submitted by this committee amounts to nothing less than a scientific fraud.”