Phasing out


Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi has 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 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. There are over 5,000 equines that are used for transportation of goods and people on Mata Vaishno Devi Ji track. These animals are a source of a highly contagious and communicable zoonotic disease called glanders. To provide veterinary services and surveillance across the track and in the notified area to prevent outbreaks of disease of mortality of livestock is next to impossible given the terrain and staff shortages. Equine owners earn a small income but suffer huge and repeated losses due to mortality of animals.
The equine owners are at the greatest risk of being exposed to the deadly glanders virus which has no cure anywhere in the world. The person who contracts it from a horse/mule dies of flu-like symptoms. The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal has directed the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir and Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to hold meeting with the stakeholders to consider rehabilitation scheme for the mules that are being used to carry pilgrims to the holy cave shrine. The Tribunal has directed the State Government to comply with the Rehabilitation Plan multiple times. The delay in finalization of the Rehabilitation Plan has led to coercive action of the courts towards the State so much so that vide order dated 22.3.2018, the Tribunal imposed a cost of Rs 50 lakh upon the State for nor implementing the Draft Rehabilitation Plan and the matter is now being heard by the Supreme Court. It may be mentioned here that the equines are also not allowed on alternate track from AdhKunwari to Bhawan. From AdhKunwari onwards, the equines take traditional HathiMatha and Sanji Chat route to take pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi JiBhawan. The equines have been operating on the track for years together but their number swelled with increase in pilgrimage after the SMVDSB took over affairs of the shrine in 1986. The pilgrimage, which was just 13 lakh a year in 1986, now has been hovering between eight to nine million a year. It had even gone up to 10 million few years back.

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