Mules operating to Vaishno Devi shrine to get RFID tags: JK Govt tells SC

Mules operating on the Katra-Vaishno Devi shrine track in Jammu will soon be implanted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to ensure that no illegal or unauthorised animal is pressed into service, the Supreme Court was informed Tuesday. In a report placed before the apex court, the sub-committee of the state advisory council has recommended that the cap on registered mules operating on the track would be reduced from 4,600 to 2,500 over a period of 10 years and 175 animal would be phased out every year starting 2018-19. A copy of the sub-committee’s report was placed before a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, during the hearing today. As part of the long term measures to deal with the issue of rehabilitation of mules and their owners, the panel has recommended that after the number of animals is capped at 2,500, the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board and the district administration would ensure that number of mules on the track do not exceed 2,000 on a single day. “Clear indication and RFID tagging of both mules and mule owners by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to ensure that no illegal/unauthorised mule operates on the track,” the committee has recommended as part of the short-term measures. It has recommended that the state’s animal husbandry would constitute a task force and create an institutional mechanism to ensure control on spread of zoonotic disease in euqines at Katra and the shrine area. It also asked the department to post more veterinary doctors both at Katra and the track to the shrine to ensure timely detection and elimination of mules infected with zoonotic disease like Farsy and Glanders. Zoonotic diseases are infectious ailments transmitted from animals to humans. “Department of Health to post more number of doctors both at Katra and the track enroute shrine to ensure health and hygiene of mule operators and the visiting pilgrims,” the committee has said, adding that the shrine board would ensure collection and disposal of waste excreta from the track. As part of long term measures, the committee has recommended that the state government should cover the eligible displaced mule owners under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme of the Centre as an extra incentive for their rehabilitation. A retirement centre would be made and maintained by the district administration and shrine board, the committee has recommended. It has also recommended that the draft rehabilitation policy prepared by the state government earlier would be accepted and adopted with certain modifications suggested by them. The financial implication on account of the implementation of the policy would be borne in the ratio 1:2 by the state government and the shrine board, it said. Earlier, advocate Shoeb Alam, representing Jammu and Kashmir, had told the court that the sub-committee consisted of three advisors to the Governor and the chief secretary of the state. The sub-committee would make recommendations to the state advisory council. At the hearing today, the counsel for activist Gauri Maulekhi, who had earlier filed a plea in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking removal of horses and mules from the path to the shrine, said they wanted to respond to the report. “What response? If somebody has done some good work, at least appreciate it. For everything, there is an obstruction. Let them implement it. Four of the top senior officers have done it,” the bench said. “It cannot go on like this. Everything cannot be your way. Similarly, everything cannot be there way also,” the bench said. The counsel then claimed that their suggestions were not considered by the sub-committee. Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the state, said that the suggestions were considered by the committee. Later, the court told the counsel to file their responses within a week and posted the matter for hearing after two weeks. The apex court had earlier taken note of the problem of pollution at Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and the surrounding areas and made it clear that Jammu and Kashmir government and shrine board would have to “protect and preserve” both. The NGT had capped the number of visitors to the shrine at 50,000 per day.

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