The Apex Court on January 16 declined to entertain a petition asking for the Apex court’s intervention to pronounce the ongoing landslide crisis in Joshimath a “national disaster”. The bench asked the petitioner Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati to approach the Uttarakhand High Court with his petition, mainly citing the reason that since the High Court is seized of a “broad range of issues”, it should entertain it as a matter of principle. Hence, the petitioner could either file a fresh plea or intervene in the proceedings at the Uttarakhand HC. The bench was presided over by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala.
The petitioner had contended that the subsidence had occurred due to extensive industrialisation and pleaded for immediate financial aid, assistance in reparation work and compensation to the people affected by the disaster. Among other issues, in his petition, he sought that the respondents be directed to take adequate steps to safeguard the spiritual and religious places and stop construction of the Tapoban project; directions be issued to the national thermal power cooperation to provide insurance coverage and rehabilitative measures, and a high-level expert committee be appointed to frame guidelines for the development of rehabitation of scarcely populated sections in Uttarakhand considering its geological features.
The petioner also highlighted that the current matter was pertaining to relief and rehabilitation of the residents of Joshimath, where more than 700 houses and roads have developed cracks due to land subsidence. The Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand Jatinder Kumar Sethi informed the bench that the Uttarakhand High Court is already considering the issue and that all prayers raised in the present PIL had been acted upon by the Central and the State government.
Previously in this matter (Jagatguru Shankaracharya Jyotirmath Jyotishpeethadheeshwar Shri Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswari Ji Maharaj Anjani Kumar Mishra versus Union of India and Ors), the top court had declined urgent hearing of the plea on January 10, stating there are democratically elected institutions in place to take care of the circumstances already, and not all matters of importance should come to the Apex Court.
The Uttarakhand government had informed the Delhi High Court on January 12 that two committees have been established to look into rehabilitation and mitigation efforts in the disaster-prone town.
Amidst this, Ranjit K Sinha, Uttarakhand’s disaster management secretary statement came in. He said that “Joshimath will be redeveloped in the same manner that Kedarnath was redeveloped. Chief Minister has instructed that a scientific investigation be conducted in all the cities located in the hills, we will do it.”
In its order today, the Apex Court clariefied that if the High Court is seized of a wide range of issues, then the
Apex Court cannot intervene in the matter. While observing that whether the government had been proactive in the matter or not was for the court’s assessment, the Bench stated “The State has been asked to strictly enforce the ban on construction in Joshimath area. The relief sought under Article 32 substantially overlaps with proceedings before the High Court which it is seized of…The petitioner here can intervene in the pending proceedings before the High Court or file a fresh plea. We request the High Court to consider the petition filed with reasonable dispatch.”