Vaishno Devi stampede: HC seeks inquiry report from govt, SMVDSB

TNN Bureau. Updated: 9/23/2022 11:25:19 AM Front Page

Jammu: The Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court Thursday gave a month’s time to the J&K administration and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to file their responses to the PIL seeking directions to make public the inquiry report on the stampede at the hilltop temple late on December 31 last year.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Sindhu Sharma issued the directions to the secretary (general administration department), principal secretary to J-K Lieutenant Governor, financial commissioner (Home), and the additional director general of police, Jammu.
The others who were also asked to file their responses on a writ petition filed by advocate Sheikh Shakeel, included the divisional commissioner, Jammu, Reasi senior superintendent of police (SSP), SDPO, and Station House Officer (SHO) Bhawan.
After hearing the advocates for the petitioner in the PIL and the petitioner in person, the bench observed that Additional Advocate General (AAG) Raman Sharma, appearing for the UT Administration, sought more time to seek instructions on the matter. It added that “in view of the above and as prayed for, a month’s time is allowed to him and if necessary, he may file a comprehensive reply”.
Earlier, senior advocate A V Gupta with advocate H A Siddiqui submitted the instant PIL highlighting the public importance of the issue as 12 devotees lost their lives due to the negligence on the part of the officers/officials of the Shrine Board. They said the shrine “miserably failed to perform their lawful duties on the fateful night and unfortunately the accountability was not fixed in the matter for the reasons best known to the authorities at the helm of affairs”.
The Lieutenant Governor of J&K, who is also the chairman of the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, constituted a three-member panel headed by then principal secretary (Home) on January 1, 2022, to look into the accident, examine the cause behind it, and point out the lapses.
The senior counsel submitted that the panel, which was also entrusted with the task of suggesting appropriate SOPs and measures for preventing the recurrence of such incidents, was directed to submit its report within a week to the J&K government.
Gupta pointed out the inquiry report is yet to see the light of the day even after nine months. He also drew the attention of the bench to the response to an RTI query wherein the general administration department (GAD) said no such inquiry report has been received by it.
The petitioner said senior shrine board officers on December 31, 2021, reportedly stopped pilgrims from having ‘darshan’ which resulted in crowding outside the sanctum sanctorum. The pilgrims were 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 in the death of 12 innocent pilgrims”.
The petitioner submitted that despite persuading authorities and making a representation before the chairman of the shrine board to make public the inquiry report, nothing concrete has yet emerged.
After considering the submissions by the lawyers appearing for the petitioner, as well as those by the AAG, the court allowed a month’s time for the UT administration and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to file their responses. It also granted time to the AAG to seek instructions on the matter.
The division bench directed the Registry to re-notify the instant PIL on October 28.

Comment on this Story