President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday decided to pull out of a cultural extravaganza being organised by Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as a controversy raged over the three-day event on the flood plains of river Yamuna that has raised environmental concerns.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate event on Friday and the President was to attend the valedictory function on Sunday.
“The President cannot attend the function due to unavoidable circumstances,” an official of the Rashtrapati Bhavan said on Monday.
The event drew criticism after some activists petitioned the National Green Tribunal, a qusai judicial body on environmental issues, asking it to stop the event as it would have a deep impact on the Yamuna flood plains. The Tribunal is expected to give its judgement on Tuesday.
While the organisers expect 35 lakh people to attend the function, concerns have been raised by experts about the likely damage to the environment that may be caused by holding it on the flood plains of the already polluted river in east Delhi.
The AOL foundation, which is organising the function, will have yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers by Sanskrit scholars and traditional cultural performances from around the world.
The three-day event will be held from 11-13 March on the west bank of Yamuna to celebrate 35 years of the foundation.
Earlier, the green panel had issued notices to the Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority and the foundation on another plea seeking stoppage of ongoing construction work on the flood plains.
It had also constituted an expert committee headed by Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar to inspect the site of the proposed festival.
Ravi Shankar, however, has defended holding of the event saying that he would have received a red carpet welcome in any other country for holding such an event.
Comparing the importance of the festival to the Olympics, Shankar also said that the NGT report is biased.
He said the committee constituted by the NGT was “biased” and claimed that the organisers of the event had not cut a single tree.
He denied claims that the Yamuna flood plains was being destroyed because of the event and said it was an eco-friendly function.