The Uttarakhand High Court has instructed the State Government and District Magistrates to implement screening systems to prioritize the well-being and safety of equines used during the Kedarnath Yatra. The Court emphasized in order to prevent cruelty and mistreatment of equines, the handlers/owners that are liable must be blacklisted. Additionally, the Court has directed the District Magistrate to ensure that only registered equines and handlers are allowed on the Yatra route to prevent unauthorized entry.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and also comprising Justice Rakesh Thapliyal noted, “There is no fear, in erring handlers/ owners of Equines, of suffering any adverse consequences if they do not mend their conduct, and to stop subjecting their Equines to cruelty for commercial gain. The only effective way, in which cruelty to the Equines can be curbed, is by blacklisting such handlers/ owners, who are found to be subjecting their Equines to cruelty and maltreatment”.

“We, therefore, direct the State to ensure strict implementation of the Rule, that only registered Equines and handlers would be allowed on the Yatra route, and not others. The concerned District Magistrate should ensure that sufficient police force is deployed at the barrier to prevent forced unauthorized entry into the Yatra Route by unregistered handlers, along with their unregistered Equines. Any other routes, which are not barricaded, should be blocked to prevent unauthorized entry”, the Court observed in para 35.

Chief Standing Counsel C.S. Rawat appeared for the State, Advocate Aditya Pratap Singh appeared for Respondent No. 5, and Advocate Anil Kumar Bisht appeared for Respondent No. 10.

Following the directions of the last court order (July 24, 2023), the Secretary of the Animal Husbandry Department (Secretary, AHD) submitted compliance affidavits regarding the improvements made for equine health, care, and management during the Kedarnath Yatra compared to the previous year. The affidavits revealed that a 30-member Mule Task Force was formed to manage the equines and prevent cruelty. As per the affidavits, 215 financial penalties have been imposed against Equine owners, and 17 FIRs have been registered for animal cruelty. The Petitioner contended that the Equines used for carrying raw material and equipment are often overloaded beyond capacity, leading to cruel treatment and sometimes death.

The Court noted, “The petitioners have also pointed out that Equines, which are no longer considered good enough to carry pilgrims on the Kedarnath Trek Route, or which are otherwise poorly built, are utilized to carry provisions, raw materials and equipments. They are often overloaded beyond their capacity, and when they are not able to carry the load, they are subjected to very cruel and violent treatment, which often results in their death”.

The Court directed that police should be stationed at the barrier and block any other routes and emphasized that equines should rest during the night and only make one trip per day on any pilgrimage trek. As per Court’s directions, the guidelines shall apply to the use of equines in the Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Hemkund Sahib Yatras.

“The purpose of registration of Equines and handlers would lose its significance and purpose, if even unregistered Equines and handlers are able to pass the barrier unchecked. Such infiltration would also completely derail the Yatra on the route, with influx of unregistered Equines and handlers, thereby increasing their population even beyond the limit of 5000 Equines per day, statedly permitted by the administration on the Yatra route”, the Bench noted.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for September 20.

Cause Title: Gauri Maulekhi v State of Uttarakhand and others.

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