NGT caps number of pilgrims at Vaishno Devi at 50,000 per day
The green panel also said a new path to the shrine exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars will be opened from November 24.india Updated: Nov 13, 2017 20:09 IST
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday put a limit to the number of devotees to the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir and said only 50,000 people should be allowed in a day to one of the most visited pilgrimage centres in the country in order to avoid any “untoward incident”.
The green panel’s bench headed by chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar said that if the number of pilgrims exceeds the prescribed number, they will be stopped at Ardhkuwari or Katra town because the Vaishno Devi Bhawan structure cannot accommodate more than 50,000 people.
It also put a hold on new constructions inside the shrine complex.
It said that a new path to the Shrine which is located in the Trikuta Hills of Reasi district will be opened from November 24 exclusively for pedestrians and battery-operated cars. It said no horses or mules shall be allowed on the new route and these animals shall be removed slowly from the old path as well.
“The new path, which was constructed for ₹40 crore, should be positively opened to the public by November 24. No further time will be granted and, if they default, appropriate action will be taken against the concerned authorities,” it said.
The panel also directed authorities to impose a fine or an environment compensation of ₹2,000 for littering the roads as well as the bus stop at the nearby Katra town.
The directions came during the hearing of a plea filed by an activist seeking directions to stop the use of horses and ponies to ferry pilgrims on the path to the cave shrine and prompted it to seek a response from the government on the issue.
Gauri Maulekhi expressed concerns in her plea 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. She said it was dangerous for pedestrians, especially senior citizens, who visit the shrine.
The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board’s chief executive officer (CEO) JK Singh told the Hindustan Times that they have not received any official order as of now but the tribunal’s directions will be followed in letter and spirit.
The NGT has been taking a close look at the impact on areas adjoining the approach road to the shrine and at the religious site as well. Last year, it directed the board’s CEO to furnish a report about the details of the municipal solid waste (MSW) and sewage treatment plants (STPs) installed at the shrine.
The board is headed by Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra.
A board official, however, said that the number of devotees visiting the shrine has never crossed 40,000 till date.
“We have got yatra registration counters at Katra, Ban Ganga, Darshani Deodi and Ardhkuwari. If there is a sudden rush of pilgrims like in the Navratras, summer vacation, weekends and on year ends, we slow down fresh registrations to cope up with the influx because the Bhawan (sanctum sanctorum) has a limited space. These yatra counters coordinate all the time,” said a senior official of the board.
The official said that the number of pilgrims varies from 30,000 to 35,000 a day during the Navratras, the bi-annual festival held in honour of Durga, a Hindu goddess.
“It is highly unlikely that the figures go beyond 50,000 a day. It may have happened rarely in the past,” he added.
When asked about the panel’s NGT’s stay on new constructions at the shrine, he said that the governor personally monitors each and every aspect of the pilgrimage.
Another official said the shrine board takes “utmost care” in regulating the pilgrimages and that was why it has by and large remained incident-free.
“We are also very sensitive to the ecology of the Trikuta Hills where regular plantation drives are conducted,” he said.
“Our ultra-modern nursery inaugurated by the governor on March 30 this year at a cost of ₹4.27 crore at Kunia in Panthal to rear indigenous species of plants for greening the Trikuta Hills is a testimony to our seriousness towards the ecology,” he added.
The shrine board was set up in 1986 to improve the facilities and streamline the pilgrimage.
The cave shrine attracted the highest number of pilgrims, a little over a crore, in 2012. Last year, more than 77 lakh pilgrims visited the holy shrine, as per the data of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
(With PTI inputs)