TREAD WITH UTMOST CAUTION

Though the National Green Tribunal has been issuing significant directions from time to time, yet its directions regarding the Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra and Shri Vaishno Devi Pilgrimage recently in the case titled ‘Gauri Maulekhi V/s State of J&K and others’ have created a huge controversy as it is directly linked to the faith of the majority community of the world’s largest democracy. Sensing the sensitivity of the issue as also the resentment among masses across the nation, the Tribunal in its subsequent order of 14th of December, 2017 clarified that there will be maintenance of silence by the devotees and pilgrims or anybody while standing in front of Shri Amarnathji Maha Shivling and no such restriction is applicable to any other part including the main stairs leading to the Holy Cave and during the performance of daily Arti. Further, the NGT in its order dated 13th of December, 2017 also imposed restrictions on the carrying of material by any person, pilgrim or devotee from the last stair leading to the Cave. NGT subsequently clarified, in its order of 14th December 2017, that interalia this restriction would be applicable at the last 30 steps leading to the Holy Cave. Regarding the functioning of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage, the NGT had, in its order of 13th November, 2017, interalia directed the Shrine Board to operationalize the new 7 Km. Tarakote Marg, between Banganga and Adhkuwari, by 24th November 2017 and that every effort be made not to raise any new construction at the Bhawan; and that the number of pilgrims at the Bhawan should be restricted to 50,000 per day and excess thereof should be halted either at Katra or Adhkuwari. However the Supreme Court has granted a Stay Order regarding the opening of the track. The Board has also appealed against the NGT’s directions related to capping of Yatra and restrictions of new constructions at Bhawan on the grounds that it is unreasonable and premature to impose such restrictions till the ongoing Master Plan of Bhawan and extended Shrine area is finalised and approved by the Board. This matter is awaiting further hearing in the Supreme Court. The gravity of the situation on account of the NGT directions can be well gauged from the fact that Governor N.N. Vohra, Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), has convened an emergency meeting of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board on 9th of January, 2018 to discuss the recent directions passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in regard to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra and decide further course of action. This has become imperative after the discussions held by the Governor with CEO of SASB, legal advisors and others concerned in view of the strong protests over NGT’s directions besides various social, religious and political organizations having sought the Governor’s intervention into the matter. Since the issue is highly sensitive, there is a need to tread with utmost caution whether it is the stand taken by the respondents including the state of Jammu and Kashmir or the proceedings at the NGT especially while issuing directions whether interim or otherwise. So far as the holy ice Lingum of Lord Shiva in the Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Cave is concerned there was a time when it used to last till the last pilgrim had the Darshan at the revered shrine cave while as contrary to that now despite hectic efforts many pilgrims miss this phenomenon especially due to huge number of pilgrims visiting the shrine cave besides extending the Yatra period. However, given the latest technological advancements in the world today, it should not be difficult to sustain the holy ice Lingum throughout the Yatra period besides countering the noise pollution. While In its order dated 15th of November, 2017, NGT had constituted a Committee of Experts headed by Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change directing it to submit its report on various aspects including restrictions on the noise level, the Committee while placing its report before NGT on 13th December, 2017, had stated that so far as noise pollution is concerned the matter needs to be deliberated after proper data collection. It is hoped that the Shrine Boards under the Chairmanship of Governor NN Vohra will successfully take up this most sensitive issue at the administrative level as well as before the Judiciary ensuring that latest technological aid is utilized so that there is neither any threat to environment nor infringement of the faith of the faith of the largest religious community in India. For this all the stakeholders will have to tread forward with utmost caution.