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NGT raps J&K govt for not finalizing rehabilitation for affected pony walas in Katra

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New Delhi, Apr 02 : The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slammed the Jammu and Kashmir government for not finalising a rehabilitation plan for horses and mules which have been barred from plying from Katra to the Vaishno Devi temple, and slapped a cost of Rs 50 lakh on the State government.

A bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim refused to grant four-week time sought by the State government to place the plan before the State Cabinet for its approval.

The green panel said there was no explanation why the rehabilitation scheme had not been placed before the cabinet since February 20 when the tribunal first asked the State to finalise the plan.

“Time sought of four seeks to place before the cabinet does not appear as a reasonable request on behalf of the state in regard to the serious matter pertaining to the rehabilitation of the affected peopled whose life depends on the rehabilitation which government has to do…

“We note the state has failed to note that rehabilitation scheme is for providing for rehabilitation to the persons who were earning through mules and for but the animal as well. In the circumstances we decline to grant time of four weeks to the state and instead impose the cost of Rs 50 lakh to be deposited within one week from now and to ensure that the scheme is finalised complying with all directions of the tribunal within two weeks from now. Any failure on the party of the state shall expose it to further order in this regard,” the bench said.

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

It had ordered the State government to finalise 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 till date.

The matter is posted for next hearing on April 18.

The tribunal had earlier capped the number of pilgrims at Vaishno Devi at 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 exceeded the prescribed 50,000 cap, they would be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town, considering that the Vaishno Devi Bhawan structure could not 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 in 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 the 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.