World

NEW DELHI (Web Desk) – A controversial cultural festival on the floodplains of Delhi’s Yamuna river kicked off on Friday evening amid opposition from activists.

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

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

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

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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation which denies it has caused damage to the area, initially refused to pay the fine, but on Friday agreed to make an initial payment of 2.5m rupees (£25,000;$35,600) and promised to pay the rest in three weeks.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to attend the festival.

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

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

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Foreign guests and dignities participating in event 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”.