India

India 'spiritual' festival goes ahead despite green concerns

People sit on the steps of a stage at the venue of World Culture Festival on the banks of the Yamuna river in New Delhi, India, March 10, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Environmentalists say the three-day event organised by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has damaged the ecologically sensitive area

A cultural festival on the floodplains of Delhi's Yamuna river has begun amid opposition.

Environmentalists say the three-day event organised by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has already damaged the ecologically sensitive area.

India's environment watchdog granted permission for the festival to go ahead but imposed an interim fine of 50m rupees (£523,172; $744,262).

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

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living Foundation denies it has caused damage to the area.

It initially refused to pay the fine but on Friday agreed to make an initial payment of 2.5m rupees and promised to pay the rest in three weeks.

Why India's huge 'spiritual' festival has run into trouble

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due to attend the festival opening.


Who is Sri Sri Ravishankar?

  • His website describes him as "a humanitarian leader, a spiritual teacher, and an ambassador of peace"
  • He studied meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is popularly known as the guru of the Beatles
  • His Art of Living Foundation has millions of followers in India and around the world
  • His followers include politicians, Bollywood celebrities and sports personalities
  • He is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars

President Pranab Mukherjee was scheduled to be at the closing ceremony but pulled out over the environmental concerns.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Organisers say 3.5 million visitors are expected to attend from 150 countries

The festival, held to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the foundation, will feature music, dance and theatre performances from more than 3,000 artists.

Confirmed guests include former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena, US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and the Japanese and Norwegian culture ministers.

Organisers say they want the event to bring global cultures, music and arts together to demonstrate the "power of peace".

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