New Delhi: The Supreme Court today agreed to hear on May 30 a plea of the Jammu and Kashmir government seeking a stay on proceedings before the NGT that has sought a rehabilitation plan for those engaged in carrying pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi shrine on horses and mules, which has now been barred.
A vacation bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Mohan M Shantanagoudar considered the submission of the state government that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has recently asked the Chief Secretary to file an affidavit making a statement on various related issues before May 29.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh and lawyer Shoeb Alam, appearing for the state government, said propriety demanded that once the apex court was seized of the matter relating to the rehabilitation policy for mule and horse operators on the Vaishno Devi shrine, the NGT should not have proceeded on it.
The apex court had on April 16 stayed an order of the NGT imposing a cost of Rs 50 lakh on state government for not finalising the rehabilitation plan for the owners of horses and mules, who have been barred from plying from Katra to the Vaishno Devi temple.
The top court, which had asked for rehabilitation of the owners of horses and mules who have become jobless, had also said that no coercive action be taken till it decided the appeal of the state government.
The state government, in a fresh plea, has referred to various orders of the NGT and said it has been directed by the tribunal to formulate and implement a rehabilitation plan for mule owners.
Seeking an interim stay on further proceedings before the NGT, the state government said it had informed the tribunal about the draft rehabilitation policy which was submitted to the state cabinet as required, but it could not be taken up due to the pending cabinet reshuffle.
“However, the NGT did not accept the earnest pleas of the counsel representing the state and dictated an order directing the Chief Secretary to file an affidavit making a statement on various issues before Tuesday, May 29, The matter was posted for May 29,” the plea said.
“That under these circumstances, it is expedient in the interest of justice that the proceedings before the NGT be stayed till disposal of the present Appeal,” the plea said.
The green panel had on March 22 imposed a cost of Rs 50 lakh on the state government for not coming up with a comprehensive plan. It had said there was no explanation why the rehabilitation scheme had not been placed before the cabinet since February 20 when the tribunal had first asked the state government to finalise it.
The NGT had last year said a new path should be created to the shrine exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars and had banned horses or mules on the new route to the shrine. It had also ordered that these animals be removed gradually from the old path as well.
The tribunal had also capped the number of pilgrims to shrine 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 and 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.
Petitioner Gauri Maulekhi 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.