Waste Management Infrastructure Inadequate On Pilgrim Tracks Of Uttarakhand: NGT

The tribunal was hearing a petition claiming large-scale unregulated violation of environmental norms along the four pilgrim tracks.

National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal has said there was "serious failure" on the part of the Uttarakhand administration in waste management across the pilgrimage tracks of Kedarnath, Hemkund Sahib, Yamunotri and Gomukh.

The tribunal was hearing a petition claiming large-scale unregulated violation of environmental norms along the four pilgrim tracks.

Noting that a committee constituted earlier by the NGT had submitted a factual report after undertaking site visits, a bench comprising Chairperson Justice A K Goel said the report acknowledged that "infrastructure for waste management is inadequate".

"Equine excrement, solid garbage, and plastic waste were observed on and around the tracks and in the valley and soak pit toilets were overflowing with waste or the toilets were not working," the bench, also comprising judicial members Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi, along with expert member Afroz Ahmad, noted.

It said that according to the report, during peak hours, there was the possibility of a "very bad scenario" regarding the management of solid or plastic garbage and track cleaning.

The bench said "15,63,278 pilgrims visited in 2022 and the Uttarakhand government has restricted the number of pilgrims to 13,000 per day".

"During interaction with local people, it was found that the number exceeded from May to July every year," it noted.

The bench further said that the handling of the excrement and wastewater produced by equine and mules lacked scientific mechanism and dung was found lying on tracks or swept to the side of the tracks.

"Shelter and space available for horses and mules were insufficient. If any mules or equines die during tracking, the insurance provider takes three to four days to verify the factual status for reimbursement of losses and after being verified by the insurance provider, dead mules and horses are buried," the bench said, taking note of the report.

It said when the number of pilgrims was higher, owners of mules and horses strived to make the most excursions in a single day, harming the animals in the process.

"According to the conclusion of the committee, preliminary carrying capacity assessment of mules or equines on the track path has been done and a socio-ecological criteria-based extensive study is required," the bench said.

It said according to the committee, a system for managing and regulating people in pilgrimage locations, especially during the peak season (April, May and June) must be developed, besides devising site-specific mechanisms for solid and plastic waste management.

"Agency needs to set up solid waste processing plants. Plastic waste should be collected and disposed of through registered recyclers," the bench said.

Regarding equine and mules, the bench noted that the dung and dead animals have to be disposed according to rules and a team of veterinarians was required at each pilgrimage site.

"The report shows a serious failure on the part of the administration in breach of its constitutional responsibility for which accountability needs to be fixed and the situation remedied on a war footing for protection of the environment in the fragile eco-system of Himalayas and upholding the principle of sustainable development," the green panel said.

It said the matter needed to be taken at the "highest level" instead of leaving the responsibility with the zila panchayats.

The tribunal formed a joint committee comprising the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment and Forest, Director, G B Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and Sustainable Development, Director, Wildlife Institute of India, District Magistrates, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi along with Chairmen of zila panchayats of Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi Districts and directed them to meet within 15 days to "take stock of the situation and prepare a road map."

The committee may review and plan infrastructure for waste management, disposal of dead mules and other measures for the protection of flora and fauna, safety precautions, installing locations for CCTV cameras, monitoring mechanism, control room, developing an appropriate mobile App, and preparing SOP and display boards of do's and don'ts among others, the tribunal said.

It said the action plan could also include discouraging the use of food and products packed in non-biodegradable packaging material, encouraging depositing waste at designated places and involving citizens in maintaining cleanliness and hygiene.

The bench directed that an action-taken report be filed before the tribunal within two months.

-With PTI Input