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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.
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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