Four years after the Kedarnath tragedy, the Uttarakhand High Court has declared all national parks, including tiger reserve, elephant reserve, Jim Corbett and Rajaji National Park, plastic free zones while banning dumping of garbage around rivers and its tributaries and recommending the state government to provide insurance cover to all pilgrims visiting the Char Dhams at a reasonable premium.
A bench of Justice Alok Singh and Justice Rajiv Sharma also directed that special teams be made to “revisit the places of disaster, trace out missing bodies and cremate them with due honour after preserving their DNAs”.
Ban on dumping along rivers, national parks made plastic-free
The bench ordered that, “There shall be no dumping of garbage on both sides of major rivers as well as their tributaries within a radius of 01 kilometer from the edges of the banks, as the crow flies, within one week”.
“The District Magistrates/SDMs shall identify the new sites within one week from today and the garbage already dumped on the banks of rivers and its tributaries is ordered to be removed within one week and the same shall be disposed of in a scientific manner. It is made clear by way of abundant precaution that no garbage shall be dumped/thrown in forest areas. The District Magistrates/SDMs of the respective areas shall be personally responsible to obey the order punctually,” it ordered.
“National Parks, including Tiger Reserve, Elephant Reserve, Jim Corbett and Rajaji National Park, are ordered to be declared plastic free zones. No visitor shall be permitted to carry out plastic carry bags except 02 water bottles each. Empty water bottles shall be handed over to the staff at the exit points. Persons manning at entry and exit points shall ensure due compliance of the order”.
Special Cadre for Wildlife
The court was also disturbed and alarmed at the rate at which unnatural deaths of almost all animals, including tigers and elephants, are taking place.
It then directed the state government “to constitute special cadre of Tiger/Elephant Protection Force in Corbett National Park as well as Rajaji National Park to protect the tigers and elephants from poaching within a period of 3 months from today”.
“The existing staff along with the supporting staff of national parks be increased within a reasonable period to improve the patrolling in the sensitive areas. We also recommend to the State Government to remove the encroachments from the vital corridors including at Sunderkhal between Dhikuli and Dhangadi on the banks of River Kosi. The State is directed to take effective steps for rehabilitation of the persons who are affected/displaced. The persons who have encroached upon the land belong to the lowest strata of society. Their settlement must be carried out with due sensitivity,” it ordered.
Equip forest guards with better weapons
The bench also directed that “anti-poaching drive should be carried out throughout the year”.
“The obsolete weapons of forest guards i.e., rifles shall be replaced at least by semiautomatic weapons to instill the fear and deterrence in the minds of poachers. The Central Government is expected to grant necessary permission within three months for upgrading the weapon system. It is made clear that the revenue generated by all the National Parks shall exclusively be used for the upkeep and maintenance of national parks. The revenue generated by the National Parks including Jim Corbett and Rajaji National Park shall not be diverted by the State Govt. for any other activity/purpose,” it said.
Insurance cover for pilgrims
The court could not lose sight of the massive tragedy which, it said, “created havoc, more particularly, in Kedarnath Valley and other parts of the State”.
“Thousands of lives were lost and an equal number are still missing. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists were also injured,” it said while recommending the State Government to “provide insurance cover to all the pilgrims visiting the Char Dhams at a reasonable premium”.
“It shall be open to the State government to tie-up with the Life Insurance Corporation or any other government-owned life insurance company. The corpus generated is permitted to be used to improve the environment and ecology of the fragile Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath areas/valleys,” the bench said.
The court order comes on a petition filed by activist Ajay Gautam.
The bench also asked the Central Government to accord necessary assistance for developing the State Code of Tourism by the state government within three months.
Seal all hotels, premises polluting rivers
The bench also directed all district magistrates of all the districts throughout the state of Uttarakhand “to identify the premises, hotels, industries, commercial establishments, Ashrams, Deras etc. which are letting untreated sewage/sewerage into the major rivers and their tributaries within two weeks. All the drains emptying untreated sewage into the major rivers and their tributaries shall be sealed/diverted within three weeks from today. All the premises, hotels, industries, commercial establishments, Ashrams, Deras etc, identified by the District Magistrates, as ordered hereinabove, shall be sealed and their electricity/water connection shall also be disconnected within three weeks”.
Residents of hills have fundamental right to connectivity
The court also recognised the right of residents of hilly areas to connectivity.
It ordered that all roads be metalled and well connected so that people can move easily and rescue operation is easy during any calamity like the one in 2013.
“The Court expects that the work…would be completed within a time bound manner. The construction of roads in the hilly areas is of utmost importance. Construction of roads in the State is of strategic importance. The residents of hilly areas have a fundamental right to connectivity, as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the bench said.