“#OccupyYamuna”? Before Sri Sri’s extravaganza, it was Akshardham

Faith might move mountains but off late it has been ruining the river

GN Bureau | March 9, 2016


#narendra modi   #akshardham   #delhi   #yamuna   #religion   #culture   #environment   #art of living   #sri sri ravishankar  


Going by the activities over the years in the riverbed and floodplains in Delhi, there seems to be a veritable #OccupyYamuna campaign going on. Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living (AOL), with its three-day extravaganza from March 11, is only the latest in the list.

 
Before AOL was the “millennium” bus depot of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), which came up in around the time of the Commonwealth Games of 2010. When the green authorities questioned it, DTC pleaded that it was a temporary structure. It stands there six years later, with no signs of winding up anytime soon. 
 
But the depot had a precedent nearby, in the Commonwealth Games Village – which is not a village but an upscale apartment complex, initially meant for the Games visitors’ stay and now given over to government employees and private buyers. It stands right in the middle of the riverbed.
 
The Games Village, however, could point to another precedent: Delhi Metro’s Yamuna Bank station and the adjoining residential quarters for its staff that came up around 2009.
 
All of them together can point fingers to a monumental precedent: Akshardham, the original religious counterpart of Disneyland, standing gloriously in the riverbed. Apparently, when its construction began in 1999, there was no requirement of the environmental clearance, which became mandatory by the time it was completed in 2004. It has a long history of legal battles. Instead of going through the fine print of legalese, it should suffice to say that if you take a look at it from above, from Google Earth, the magnificent, Guinness-record-making structure stands ‘within’ the floodplains. 
 
[By a curious coincidence, both the Art of Living and the Gujarat-based Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha - the organisation behind the Akshardham - have often proudly boasted of their close ties with the BJP in general and prime minister Narendra Modi in particular.]
 
In short, be it the UPA or the NDA, be it matters of faith or of matters secular, the Yamuna has never been seen by authorities as a living river. It seen as an otherwise wasted land resource available which should be put to good use when the capital faces space crunch. No wonder the capital meets its water requirements from rivers hundreds of kilometres away, while the one river within the city is virtually a drain.
 
It’d a be cliché, even if a spooky one, to say that it remains to be seen where the Yamuna waters will find the way, if the river has what in experts’ language is called once-in-a-century kind of floods, the kind Chennai witnessed last year and other Indian cities have witnessed in recent years.
 
The Delhi government headed by Arvind Kejriwal has announced plans for the beautification of the Yamuna, possibly on the lines of the beautification of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. The time for cosmetics might be long past.
 
 

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