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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar & the Yamuna controversy

I was once traveling with Sri Sri Ravi Shankarby daytime train,from Delhi to Haridwar. As many of you know, both sides of the railway tracks are littered with million of plastic bags and rubbish. Sri Sri immediately said : « Do we have someone in this district who can lead a clean-up » ?

As far as I remember – and I have known him for 25 years, Sri Sri has always been a ‘green’ guru who believes that: “throughout history, Nature has always been adored in India; mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, the trees have been revered. He thus startedorganic farming, long before it became fashionable in India: Sri Sri, who is very fond of ‘desi’ cows, thus reached out to 1,00,000 farmers in 10,000 villages in 12 states and convincedthem that: “one cow is sufficient to fertilize 30 acres of land. One gram of cow dung contains 300 to 500 crores of different useful bacteria for agriculture ». And it worked, although the Frenchman in me was very sceptical!

I also recall how he tried to save many of Bangalore’s lakes, which are perpetually encroached upon by promoters, or how his Mission Green Earth initiative, in collaboration with the United Nations, planted 55 million trees in 36 countries and 26 states of India.

I was thus extremely surprised when I heard that the Green Tribunal panel has indictedhis Art of Living Foundation for the damage caused to the Yamunafloodplains in the preparation of its March 11-13 World Cultural Festival event,whichwillfeature yoga and meditation sessions, peaceprayers by Sanskrit scholars, plus traditional cultural performances fromaround the world and isexpected to beattended by more than million people.

My first thought was: ‘what, the Yamuna, India’s most polluted river in India’!Statistics speak for themselves:the Yamuna starts being polluted by pesticides and fertilisers as it enters Haryana& by the time it reaches Delhi, a study has found traces of carcinogenic isomers. Nineteen drains fromlarge industrial units (22 in Haryana, 42 in Delhi and 17 in Uttar Pradesh) pour into the poor river. By the time it leaves Delhi, it is a sewer, laden with the city’s biological and chemical wastes, to become downstream, Agra’s main municipal drinking water source.

My second thought: “But it can’t be – Sri Sri was the first one to initiate MeriDiliMeri Yamuna, a ‘Clean Yamuna drive’. I was there in March 2010, along with 20,000 mostly young Delhiites to clean the ghats of Yamuna and remove 512 tons clothes, plastic, garbage.

I am a lover of India, but I have also seen how Indianrivers, includingthe scared Ganges, have been polluted beyond redeeming, the Himalayas totally deforested and replanted by harmful pines and how there is so little civic consciousness amongst Indians – see for instance Delhi’s Lodhi Garden hopelessly littered with garbage everysunday. So, when the National Green Tribunal indicts one of the few people who has actually worked for the environment in the last 30 years, it makes me wonder how gurus are so easily targeted in India

I wish his World Cultural Festival a success. This is exactly the kind of event that showcases India’s past and present greatness and changes the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’image which is very ‘passé’….

(Author of the “Guru of Joy”, Sri Sri’s biography& a teacher, with his wife Namrita,of his pranayama techniques)

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