Vaishno Devi pilgrimage: NGT raps state over rehabilitation of mules

NEW DELHI: The National Green Tribunal today rapped the J&K Government over its failure to submit a plan for the rehabilitation of horses and mules, which have been barred from plying from Katra to the Vaishno Devi cave shrine.

Vaishno Devi pilgrimage: NGT raps state over rehabilitation of mules

Pilgrims on their way to Vaishno Devi shrine at Katra. File photo

New Delhi, February 20

The National Green Tribunal today rapped the J&K Government over its failure to submit a plan for the rehabilitation of horses and mules, which have been barred from plying from Katra to the Vaishno Devi cave shrine.

Noting that no document has been submitted to show compliance, the green panel directed the J&K Chief Secretary to file an affidavit stating the reason for delay in finalising the rehabilitation plan.

A bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim granted two weeks to the J&K Government to finalise the rehabilitation of equines.

“The rehabilitation scheme has not been finalised. Who should do it? Your officers were supposed to do. Is there any other agency? Why can’t the officers sit together and come out with a plan? Who is preventing you?” the bench observed.

Last year, the tribunal had said a new path to the shrine would be opened exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars and directed that no horses or mules would be allowed on the new route and these animals should be removed slowly from the old path as well.

It had ordered the state government to finalise the rehabilitation plan for horses and mules and directed that it be put in the public domain without any further delay. However, the state government failed to submit any plan to date.

During the proceedings today, the state government sought the recall of the NGT order on the rehabilitation plan but the green panel declined to entertain it.

The matter is posted for the next hearing on March 25.

The tribunal had earlier capped the number of pilgrims at Vaishno Devi to 50,000 per day and directed the authorities to impose a fine (environment compensation) of Rs 2,000 on anyone found littering the roads as well as the bus stop at the nearby Katra town.

It had made it clear that if the number of pilgrims exceeds the prescribed 50,000 cap, they would be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town, considering that the Vaishno Devi Bhawan structure cannot accommodate more than 50,000 people.

The green panel’s directions came during the hearing of a plea filed by an activist seeking directions to stop the use of horses and ponies on the Vaishno Devi shrine premises in Jammu, prompting the green panel to seek response from the government on the issue.

The petitioner had expressed concern over the “pollution and danger to public health” caused by indiscriminate use of horses, ponies, mules and donkeys to carry pilgrims and goods from Katra to the Vaishno Devi temple.

The NGT was hearing a plea filed by activist Gauri Maulekhi seeking to remove horses and mules from the path to the shrine, saying it was dangerous for the pedestrians, especially the senior citizens. — PTI

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