The 200-crore weddings hosted by South Africa’s controversial Gupta family in Auli, Uttarakhand, were wrapped up on Saturday, June 22, after five days of grand celebrations. However, the grandiose wedding celebrations have been followed by the local administration grappling to complete the challenging task of cleaning up the mountain of garbage left in the alpine meadow.
The controversial Gupta family is based in South Africa and has been infamous for its close ties with the country’s former president Jacob Zuma, who resigned on February 15. 2019, over corruption scandals. The Gupta brothers have repeatedly been accused of using their political influence in South Africa to advance their business interests, but they have denied the allegations.
In 2013 as well, the family was accused of siphoning off public money – meant to be used for a dairy farm project – and using it to fund an extravagant wedding in Sun City in South Africa. It was deemed as the ‘event of the millennium’.
For the weddings of Suryakant Gupta and Shashank Gupta, sons of Ajay Gupta and Atul Gupta respectively, two grand wedding stages and a glasshouse with floral arrangements from Switzerland had been set up in Auli, amidst the snow-peaked mountains. The wedding of Ajay Gupta’s son Suryakant took place from June 18 to June 20, and that of Atul Gupta’s son Shashank took place between June 20 and June 22.
On Tuesday, June 18, the Uttarakhand High Court heard a petition filed by a local resident alleging that the wedding preparations were damaging the environment in Auli, and asked the family to deposit Rs 3 crore with the Chamoli district magistrate as security money on account of possible environmental damage during the wedding proceedings. On Monday, June 17, the court had said that the state government’s permission for the wedding in Auli will set the wrong precedent.
The division bench consisting of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma had said that the district administration can take action against the Gupta brothers if they did not deposit the money with the district magistrate by June. The court had also issued an order that called for the “prohibition of the use of plastic, thermocol bags, glasses, plates, cups, saucers”.
However, on the same day the High Court gave this order, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, who was also one of the guests attending the weddings, had dismissed the environmental concerns raised about the weddings. He also said that the high–profile event had turned the alpine meadow into a “tourist destination”.
Swati Bhadoriya, the district magistrate of Chamoli has set up a team of 13 officials from various departments to assess whether the High Court directions were followed. On June 25, Bhadoriya will meet the officials to evaluate the violations and impact of the wedding on Auli.
Shailendra Singh Pawar, the chairman of the Nagar Palika Parishad of Auli, told The Indian Express that usually, the amount of wet and dry waste collected every day from all of Joshimath is around 20 quintal. He said that ever since the weddings, the amount of waste has surpassed 40 quintals daily and most of it is coming from the event venue in Auli. Anil Kumar, one of the two supervisors of the Parishad said that his team of 20 men have to deal with the waste that includes leftover petals, plastic covers, foam, and food.
A worker at the wedding told The Indian Express that there was “so much plastic” at the venue as food, ingredients for cooking, and other items that came from Delhi or other towns were in plastic wrappings. “The wind makes it harder to control the plastic… it keeps flying away. It’s distressing,” added the worker. The locals are also worried about their livestock consuming plastic. “My cows graze in the area… they will eat that plastic now like city cows,” said a local who lives in a village a few kilometres from the wedding venue.