: Acting upon a public interest litigation (PIL), a division bench of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on Thursday directed the J&K UT administration and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board besides others to make public the inquiry report of a three-member panel headed by the then home secretary Shaleen Kabra into the death of 12 Vaishno Devi pilgrims and injuries to scores during a stampede on the New Year’s eve at the Bhawan on January 1.
Following the stampede, lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha had marked the probe to the then home secretary Kabra, which had additional director general of police Mukesh Singh and then Jammu divisional commissioner Raghav Langer as its members.
The LG had given seven-day time to the panel to probe the findings and submit the report.
However, nine months on the findings of the report remained unclear and were not shared in the public domain.
Hearing the PIL filed by advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed via virtual mode from Srinagar, the division bench comprising chief justice Pankaj Mithal and justice Sindhu Sharma allowed a month’s time to the secretary, general administration department (GAD), principal secretary to the LG, financial commissioner (additional chief secretary) home department, ADGP (Jammu zone), divisional commissioner, Jammu, chief executive officer of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra, SSP, Reasi, SDPO, Bhawan and SHO, Bhawan, seeking directions to the J&K administration to make public the inquiry report of the three-member panel.
The probe panel was constituted vide government order number 01-JK(GAD) of 2022 on January 1 to look into the stampede at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine which resulted into the death of 12 devotees and injuries to several others.
Via the PIL by Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed through advocate HA Siddiqui, the lawyer has sought directions to the UT administration and the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board to fix the accountability of the delinquent officials who remained remiss in the performance of their duties on the fateful night when 12 pilgrims lost their lives.
After hearing senior advocate AV Gupta with advocate HA Siddiqui, a battery of lawyers appearing for the petitioner and the petitioner-in-person, the division bench headed by chief justice Pankaj Mithal observed in the open court that additional advocate general (AAG) Raman Sharma appearing for the UT administration prayed that he may be allowed time to seek instructions in the matter.
Accordingly, the DB gave a month’s time to him and if necessary, he may file a comprehensive reply.
The DB on the prayer of advocate Adarsh Sharma appearing for Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board also granted him time to file a response. Similarly, time was also granted to deputy advocate general KDS Kotwal appearing for the J&K administration to respond in the matter.
The PIL highlighted the issue of wide public importance as 12 devotees lost their lives in the holy shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi “because of the negligence on the part of the officials of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board who miserably failed to perform their 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”.
Senior counsel AV Gupta assisted by advocate HA Siddiqui argued that LG Manoj Sinha, who is chairman of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, had constituted a three-member inquiry panel headed by then home secretary to look into the incident and to examine in detail the causes responsible for the incident and to point out the lapses and fix the responsibility thereof and to suggest the appropriate SOPs and 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.
“Almost nine months have passed 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,” argued Shakeel’s counsel.
The attention of the division bench was also drawn to the RTI information furnished to the petitioner wherein the general administration department had divulged that “no such inquiry report has been received by the GAD”.
In the PIL, astonishing revelations have been made and it was averred that on the fateful night, the senior officers of the Shrine Board reportedly stopped the ordinary yatris from having darshan to facilitate a VVIP (reportedly a senior bureaucrat of the UT administration) which led to the stampede.
The division bench directed the registry to re-notify the PIL on October 28.
Some of the stampede survivors from Punjab, Mumbai, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had told HT that “it was a nightmare for them” and that “they won’t come back again”.