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Amarnath Cave Shrine Not ‘Silence Zone’: SC

The top court said that the December 14 last year's order should not have been passed by the NGT on a petition which did not concern the Amarnath cave shrine.


New Delhi—The Supreme Court on Monday set aside an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that declared a "silence zone" in front of the ice stalagmite resembling the "Shivalinga" at the Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.

A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta stayed the December 13 order of the NGT while hearing a plea filed by the Amarnath Shrine Board against the order on the ground that a decision in a case could not be based on grounds outside the pleading of the parties.

The Amarnath cave shrine is considered one of the most holy by Hindus. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year barring a short period of time in summer when it is opened for pilgrims.

Appearing for the Amarnath Shrine Board, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that the NGT had taken up the Amarnath issue on its own while dealing with a plea relating to stopping the use of horses and ponies in Vaishno Devi shrine premises in Jammu.

The bench asked petitioner and environment activist Gauri Mulekhi to file a proper petition on the issue relating to the Amarnath shrine.

During the hearing, Rohatgi told the bench that the NGT had barred chiming of bells, offering of "prasad", chanting of mantras or saying "Jai Bholenath" in the areas surrounding the famed cave shrine to preserve its eco sensitivity.

Hearing this, the bench quipped: "What does it (NGT) want to say?"

Rohatgi added: "How can they ask that you can't take 'prasad' with you? People have religious sentiments."

On the NGT's order of banning carrying of "prasad", the bench suggested that Amarnath Shrine Board could provide the "prasad".

On December 13, the green penal had declared the cave shrine a "silence zone" and prohibited religious offerings beyond the entry point to help prevent avalanches and maintain its pristine nature.

A day later, following protests by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which termed its order as a "Tughlaki fatwa", the NGT clarified that it had not declared a "silence zone" at the Amarnath cave shrine but due silence had to be maintained only in front of the "Shivalinga".

The apex court stayed another order of the NGT where it had imposed a cost of Rs 50 lakh on 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.

The tribunal had earlier said that a new path should 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.

The apex court was on Monday informed that the scheme for rehabilitation had been finalised and would be placed before the state cabinet for its approval.

Stays NGT Order Imposing Rs 50 Lakh Cost On Govt

The Supreme Court today stayed an order of the National Green Tribunal imposing a cost of Rs 50 lakh on the Jammu and Kashmir government for not finalising a rehabilitation plan for the owners of horses and mules, who have been barred from plying from Katra to the Vaishno Devi temple.

The apex court said no coercive action shall be taken till it decides the appeal of the state government.

A bench of Justcies M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said for the time being, the order of NGT imposing cost of Rs 50 lakh on Jammu and Kashmir is stayed and no coercive action shall be taken.

Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh and advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the state government, said the draft policy on rehabilitation of owners of mules and horses was ready and some more time was sought from the tribunal, which however imposed heavy cost.

Singh said the draft policy on rehabilitation has to be cleared by state cabinet after which it can be implemented.

Senior advocate Krishna Venugopal, appearing for petitioner Gauri Mulekhi, said over 7000 animals were moving in the area and huge pollution was being caused by them.

He said there was also the fear of outbreak of glanders disease which affects horses, mules and donkeys, which cannot be replaced without a proper policy for rehabilitation.

Venugopal said that as per the comprehensive integrated plan, a separate track for electric vehicle is to be constructed for those devotees who cannot walk and a separate track for those who walk.

The bench said it will hear the matter and stayed the direction of tribunal imposing cost on the state government.

The green panel had on March 22, had refused to grant four weeks time and 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 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.

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.

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