The Indian Army, which has built a pontoon bridge on the Yamuna for the Art of Living Foundation’s upcoming World Culture Festival, is likely to build one more to ease movement of lakhs of people who are expected to attend the controversy-ridden mega event.
The development came even as there was criticism from some quarters, including the social media, about using the army to build the floating bridge for such an event.
“Lakhs of people are expected to turn up. There is a question of law and order and also fears of stampede. Permission has been granted by concerned authorities to host the event. If a permission has been given, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything is run smoothly,” a defence official said.
They said the organisers had approached the defence ministry seeking six such bridges but the army was asked to erect only one. A second bridge has been erected by the PWD.
“The Delhi Police has now given a report saying that there are fears of stampede and hence the army might build another bridge,” the sources said, adding that a minister from the Delhi government has also written to the ministry highlighting the need for such bridges.
The source said defence minister Manohar Parrikar had asked the defence secretary to look into the issue. During his interaction with the army, the force wondered whether their personnel should be used to help a “private event”.
“The minister was of the view that since permission has been granted, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything was fine. The army, which has the expertise, was asked to step in keeping the larger good of people in mind,” the sources said.
They added that the army has been used during Kumbh Mela and even the Commonwealth Games.
Told that the event has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal, which looks after the environmental issues, sources said the army is only helping people and it is up to the concerned authorities to grant permission or withdraw it.
President Pranab Mukherjee will not attend the festival in the wake of controversy over holding the three-day cultural function on the Yamuna flood plains beginning Friday.
Mukherjee had earlier agreed to attend the valedictory ceremony on Sunday.
While the organisers of the function expect lakhs of people to attend the function, concerns have been raised by experts about the damage to the environment that may be caused as the three-day event was being held on flood plains of the river in east Delhi.
The National Green Tribunal is hearing a petition which has claimed that the organisers will release ‘enzymes’ into 17 drains that flow into Yamuna for cleaning the river. A judgment is expected on Tuesday.