DEHRADUN: Uttarakhand high court on Wednesday issued notice to the state government while hearing public interest litigation alleging deaths of equines (mules, horses) on the Char Dham Yatra trek routes due to cruelty, ignorance and tourism, trade peddled in the name of God.
“The recent deaths of 600 equines on the upper reaches of pilgrim tracks in Uttarakhand in a mere period of 2 months is evidence of equine abuse and exploitation and this is sidelined in the interest of promoting commercial tourism and trade in the State; even more shameful is the fact that this tourism and trade is peddled in the name of Gods,” said the petitioner in her petition.
The division bench of acting Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar Mishra and Justice RC Khulbe also directed the government to form a committee to conduct the Yatra in a safe manner.
The next hearing of the matter is scheduled for June 22.
The PIL by animal rights activist based in Dehradun Gauri Maulekhi, member secretary of ‘People For Animals’ (PFA), stated that more than 20,000 equines are used on various pilgrimage trek routes to carry pilgrims of which more than 600 have died in the last two months due to sheer exhaustion, disease, injuries and lack of basic veterinary care, lack of adequate fodder, colic caused by drinking cold water at such high altitudes along with many other issues.
Maulekhi was instrumental in evacuating more than 6,000 equines from Gaurikund, Jungalchatti, Rambada and Ghinorpani on the track of the Kedarnath shrine.
In 2013, when floods struck Kedarnath, the pilgrims were evacuated with the help of ropes and helicopters. However, the equines were abandoned and left to perish at the site.
The PIL added that transporting of pilgrims and their goods/supplies by means of equines is not a mandatory religious practice and should be stopped forthwith in the absence of safeguards/ Policy stated that the people should be free to walk or use other available means to travel during the yatra.
The PIL stated that the state government officials and concerned departments have been guilty of deliberate inaction, criminal negligence, inexcusable indifference and misuse of authority by them and other ‘interested parties’ which perpetuate this relentless cycle of commercial exploitation of animals year after year.
The petitioner in her PIL further stated that due to the continued negligence and complacency by the state government, there have been as many as 91 human deaths on the Chardham track in this yatra season alone.
Further stating that due to an uncontrolled number of equines being made to ply on the tracks, it is nearly impossible for pedestrians to safely walk during the yatra, the petition pointed out that the slippery stone path causes animals to slip and accidents are common.
Revealing that while theoretically a cap of 8,500 equines has been placed by Zila Panchayat Rudraprayag, on the Kedarnath Track, it is not enforced by any stretch and is used only to further the corrupt underhand dealings, the petition added that the equine population of over 10,000 along with an equal number of their handlers/operators add to the already swelling crowds.