The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed Jammu and Kashmir authorities to prepare within a month a plan to phase out the use of mules to carry pilgrims from the Katra base camp to the Vaishno Devi shrine and to rehabilite mule owners.
A bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta took note of the fact that the state had prepared a rehabilitation plan in consultation with the shrine management but it was not finalised even after a lapse of 10 months.
The bench expressed concern over the mule droppings lying on way to the Vaishno Devi shrine in the Trikuta hills after activist-petitioner Gauri Maulekhi''s counsel showed photographs that the animal droppings littered the route.
"You want to keep the Vaishno Devi shrine dirty? Why are you not doing anything?" asked the bench.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, told the court that the mule droppings were bound to be there if the animals were used on the route.
Earlier, the bench had asked the Jammu and Kashmir government on the plan to phase out use of mules and the rehabilitation for their owners.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre, told the court that there was nothing sinister about mules carrying devotees to the shrine and that the animals were used elsewhere also, including during the Kedarnath Yatra.
The petitioner accused the shrine board of not doing anything to limit the littering due to use of a large number of mules on the pilgrimage route or an unsustainable number of pilgrims as it "makes money".
The National Green Tribunal had earlier said that a new path should be constructed to the shrine exclusively meant for pedestrians and battery-operated cars and directed that no horses/mules would be allowed on the new route.
Gauri Maulekhi had earlier filed a plea in the NGT to seek removal of horses/mules from the Katra-temple route, saying there were two issues involved -- one of environment and pollution; and opening of the new track for battery-operated vehicles.