J&K HC directs administration to reply on Mata Vaishno Devi stampede inquiry report issue
Jammu, Sept 22
In a significant development, a Division Bench of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh at Jammu (through Virtual Mode from Srinagar) comprising its Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Sindhu Sharma allowed a month’s time to the Jammu & Kashmir administration to make public the Inquiry report of a three member Committee constituted vide Govt. Order No. 01-JK(GAD) of 2022 dated January 1st, 2022 to look into the unfortunate incident of stampede at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Shrine (Bhawan) in Katra, in the intervening night of December 31st,2021 and January 1st,2022 which resulted into the unfortunate death of 12 devotees and several others were injured.
The Division bench gave these directions to Secretary, General Administration Department(GAD), Govt. of J&K, Principal Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Union Territory of J&K, Financial Commissioner(Additional Chief Secretary) Home Department, J&K Govt, ADGP(Jammu Zone), Divisional Commissioner (Jammu), Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board(Katra), SSP Reasi, SDPO Bhawan and SHO P/S Bhawan(Katra) on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL No. 12/2022) filed by senior advocate Sheikh Shakeel, seeking directions to the Government of J&K to make public the inquiry report.
These directions were issued on the PIL filed by Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed through Advocate H.A. Siddiqui wherein it has been prayed to give directions to the UT Administration and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board(Katra) to fix the accountability of the delinquent officers/officials who remained amiss in the performance of their duties on the fateful night when 12 innocent pilgrims lost their precious lives.
After hearing Senior Advocate A.V. Gupta with Advocate H.A. Siddiqui and a battery of lawyers appearing for the petitioner in the said PIL including the petitioner-in-person, the Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal observed and directed in the open court that AAG Raman Sharma appearing for the UT Administration should seek instructions in the matter. The bench further observed that in view of the above and as prayed for, a month’s time is allowed to UT administration to file a comprehensive reply. The bench on the prayer of advocate Adarsh Sharma appearing for Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra also granted him time to file response and time was also granted to Deputy Advocate General K.D.S. Kotwal appearing for the Government of J&K to respond in the matter.
When this PIL came up for hearing Senior Advocate A.V. Gupta with Advocate H.A. Siddiqui submitted that the instant PIL highlights the issue of wide public importance as 12 pilgrims lost their lives in the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi because of the negligence on the part of the officers/officials of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board who miserably failed to perform their lawful duties on the fateful night. Unfortunately the accountability was not fixed in the matter for the reasons best known to the authorities at the helm of affairs.
The Senior Counsel A.V. Gupta assisted by Advocate H.A. Siddiqui vehemently argued that the Lieutenant Governor, J&K who is Chairman of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra on January 1st, 2022 constituted a three member Inquiry Panel headed by then Principal Secretary (Home), J&K Government to look into the unfortunate incident and to examine in detail the causes/reasons behind the incident and to point out the lapses and fix the responsibility thereof and to suggest the appropriate SOPs, measures for preventing recurrence of such incidents in future. The Senior Counsel further submitted that the aforesaid panel was directed to submit its report within weeks’ time to the Government of J&K.
Senior Advocate A.V. Gupta submitted that almost 09 months have elapsed but the Inquiry Report is yet to see the light of the day and it is quite unfortunate that matter of wide public importance was buried in a manner unknown to law. The attention of the Division Bench was also drawn to the RTI information wherein general administration department (GAD) divulged that no such Inquiry report has been received by the GAD.
In the PIL, astonishing revelations have been made and it is averred that on the fateful night, senior officers of the Shrine Board reportedly stopped the Yatris from having Darshan resulting in large number of pilgrims gathering outside bhawan resulting in a stampede .
It was also alleged that the yatra was stopped to facilitate the ‘Darshan’ of Holy Deity to a VVIP (reportedly a Senior Bureaucrat of the UT Administration) and because of this the unfortunate stampede took place on the eve of the New Year which resulted into the death of 12 innocent pilgrims.
The petitioners further submitted that the petitioner made lot of efforts to persuade the authorities to make public the Inquiry report and even made a representation to the Chairman of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra but till date nothing has been heard in this regard and the petitioner was constrained to knock at the doors of this Court.
Keeping in view the public interest involved in the matter, the Division Bench directed the High Court Registry to re-notify the instant PIL on 28-10-2022.