Serious disease ‘Glanders’ detected in horses carrying Vaishno Devi yatris

Excelsior Correspondent
JAMMU, Dec 13: A serious disease ‘Glanders’ has been found in the horses carrying pilgrims to holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji from Ban Ganga to  Bhawan and back raising concerns over safety of the pilgrims as well as people living in holy town of Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine, and its surroundings following reports that due to large scale mule dung, the people were getting supply of contaminated water.
“The ‘Glanders’ disease was confirmed following tests conducted on a number of horses, mules and donkeys. It was, however, found first in February 2015 in the horses brought from Muzaffarpur, Uttar Pradesh by a contractor. Further infections were also noticed in other animals of the same owner,’’ official sources confirmed to the Excelsior.
Sources said Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) had taken immediate measure to isolate and destroy the infected animals as per the legal position under ‘Prevention of Contagious and Infectious Diseases of Animals Act 2009.’
However, they added, the Shrine Board took sustained measures to check the disease by taking preventive measures after which there was steep fall in the cases of ‘Glanders’ disease.
“Out of 372 blood samples collected during August and September 2015, only one case was found positive and that too was disposed of properly,’’ sources said adding that only 17 cases out of 1704 blood samples taken so far have been found positive and all these cases have been dealt with under rule.
Sources said as per the Animal Husbandry Depart-ment’s assessment, the bacteria of ‘Glanders’ has been brought to Katra from the equines imported from Uttar Pradesh, where this infection is widespread.
“Though the Department conducts screening of horses at Lakhanpur, the border of Jammu and Kashmir, but the equines were reported to have been brought from various porous borders,’’ sources said.
According to sources, another reason for spread of disease was excess number of mules being brought to Katra town for earnings by carrying pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan, Adh-Kunwari, Bhairon Ghati and back.
As per the estimates, about 1000 mules were required at Katra and track for the pilgrims. However, as against the requisite figures, there were about 5000 mules working on the track, which have been brought by the contractors and other mule owners.
“The high number of mules generates massive mule dung all along 13 kilometers track of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, mainly at Ban Ganga from where they operate. The mule dung has been posing grave threat to residents of Katra town and surroundings as they have been getting contaminated supply of water,’’ sources said.
This was despite the fact that a Biogas Plant only of its kind run on mule dung has been set up in Katra.
It may be mentioned here that only few days back, an environmental activist Gauri Maulekhi had approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking directions to stop use of horses and ponies in Vaishno Devi shrine premises.
“The large number of growing pilgrims has direct co-relation to the increase in the use of equines, employed to carry pilgrims and their luggage to and from the shrine,’’ Maulekhi had told the Tribunal saying “consequently large number of untreated solid and liquid wastes generated by pilgrims are disposed directly into Ban Ganga river. A large portion of this waste is generated by horses, mules and ponies deployed to carry the pilgrims.
Maulekhi had alleged that despite the local authorities acknowledging that these animals are being used in very large numbers, they have failed to make arrangements in and around the shrine for maintenance of these animals and ensuring that they are free of diseases.