Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's giant cultural fest caught in environment row

Event is held on an area covering over 1,000 acres; over 3.5 million people from 155 countries expected to attend.

A mammoth cultural gathering organized by Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation has raised the eyebrows of the environment watchdog in the country.

India's National Green Tribunal has ordered the organizers of the festival, which will be attended by an estimated 3.5 million visitors, to pay a fine of 50 million rupees ($700,000) over fears that the mammoth gathering will pollute the river Yamuna.

The World Culture Festival will be held on the banks of the river, in shamianas built across 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of the river's floodplains.

"Spread over a venue of 1000 acres and expected to be attended by 3.5 million people from 155 countries, the World Culture Festival will be one of the biggest cultural gatherings in the recent times," the event's website says.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on the guest list at the inaugural ceremony of the event, while President Pranab Mukherjee is supposed to attend the closing ceremony.

However, President Mukherjee pulled out of the vent after the controversy, and the local media reports say the prime minister too is unlikely to attend.

Environmentalists say the event, which was given the green light by the Delhi local administration, will leave a lasting damage to the environment.

While giving nod for the event to be held, the environment told the Art of Living foundation to construct a biodiversity park in the area after the event and deposit the fine before its start.

The Tribunal said the fine was an interim compensation for the event's impact on the environment.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has massive following across the world, said he was not satisfied with the Green Tribunal's verdict.

The World Culture Festival is held to mark the 35he anniversary of the founding of the Art of Living.

Environmental activist Manoj Misra, who approached the Green Tribunal, said the construction activities were a blatant violation of the rules. He also cited the dumping of construction debris and the contraction of pontoon bridges across the river.