The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday directed that only 50,000 pilgrims would be allowed to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu per day to avoid any untoward incident.
The bench headed by chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said that if the number of pilgrims exceeds the prescribed 50,000 cap, they would be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town since the Vaishno Devi Bhawan cannot accommodate more than 50,000 people.
It also directed that a new path exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars be opened from November 24, and that no horses or mules be allowed on this path. Animals, it added, should be slowly removed from the old path as well.
The tribunal also issued directions that authorities impose a fine (environmental compensation) of Rs 2,000 on anyone found littering on the roads or the bus stop near Katra town. “The new path which was constructed for Rs 40 crore should be positively opened to public by November 24. No further time will be granted and, in default, appropriate action will be taken against the concerned authorities,” it said.
The green panel’s directions came during the hearing of a plea by an activist seeking directions to stop the use of horses and ponies at the Vaishno Devi shrine premises in Jammu, prompting the NGT to seek a response from the government on the issue.
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. The plea, filed by activist Gauri Maulekhi, also claimed that the horses and mules on the path to the shrine were dangerous for pedestrians, especially senior citizens.