J&K sets up CSC on Rehab of mule owners; meet today

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, May 31: The Government has constituted a seven member Cabinet Sub Committee (CSC), headed by Deputy Chief Minister, Kavinder Gupta, on Rehabilitation of Mule Owners on Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji track, a direction for which had been issued to the State by National Green Tribunal (NGT). Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had also written to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti about a month ago on phasing out of mules from the track.
The CSC on Rehabilitation of mule owners operating between Katra and shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji will hold its first meeting at 3 pm here tomorrow, official sources told the Excelsior.
Headed by Gupta, the CSC has six Cabinet Ministers as its members including Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri, Horticulture, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Basharat Bukhari, Minister for Animal/Sheep Husbandry and Fisheries Abdul Ghani Kohli, Finance Minister Altaf Bukhari, Housing and Urban Development Minister Sat Sharma and Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology Rajiv Jasrotia.
The Financial Commissioner, Housing and Urban Development Department, the Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine Board, Katra and a representative from Mule Owners Association have also been called to the meeting.
Sources said the Cabinet Sub Committee has been mandated to discuss the issue of rehabilitation of mule owners as, according to the reports, nearly 5000 equines operate on Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji track carrying pilgrims to and fro the shrine and suggest ways for their rehabilitation and other options.
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) has already barred mules from operating on its new tracks including Tarakote Marg, which was recently constructed between Katra to Adh-Kunwari and alternate Adh-Kunwari-Bhawan track. The mules are allowed to carry passengers only on the traditional track from Katra to Bhawan.
Sources said the Cabinet Sub Committee, apart from formulating its opinion, will also take the view point of the Shrine Board and Mule Owners Association so that a consensus is evolved on the issue and the State Government firms up its opinion before the NGT and other concerned quarters.
The NGT on May 16 had slammed the State Government for “open defiance” of its order on rehabilitation plan for horses and mules which have been barred from carrying pilgrims from Katra to Mata Vaishno Devi Ji cave shrine.
A bench headed by acting NGT Chairperson Jawad Rahim warned the State Government while taking exception over the submission of the counsel for the Jammu and Kashmir Government that the issue was pending consideration before the State cabinet.
The green panel said it had penned down each and every step for the rehabilitation in its order and yet the State Government has not complied with its direction.
Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi had also shot off a letter to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti seeking steps to phase out equines from Mata Vaishno Devi Ji track and replacing these high maintenance animals with battery operated carts saying this was necessary to prevent massive outbreak of glanders epidemic in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and betterment of residents of holy town of Katra, the base camp of the shrine.
“Keeping in mind the betterment of the residents of Katra, owners of the livestock, the tourists (pilgrims), who visit the shrine and to prevent a massive outbreak of glanders in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, I urge you to take steps towards phasing out of equines and replacing these high maintenance animals with battery operated carts on the track,” Maneka had said.
Keeping in mind the number of owners of the equines, who would be rendered unemployed if the equines are barred from operating on the track, Maneka Gandhi suggested that the battery operated carts can be operated by the same persons, who until now used animals.