SC refuses to entertain plea seeking its intervention to declare crisis in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath a national disaster

The petition in the apex court wanted the incident to be declared a national disaster while blaming large-scale industrialization as a reason

January 16, 2023 03:01 pm | Updated 04:14 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Labourers re-construct the wall which got damaged as a result of the continuous land subsidence, in Joshimath.

Labourers re-construct the wall which got damaged as a result of the continuous land subsidence, in Joshimath. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on January 16 asked the Uttarakhand High Court to consider grievances regarding relief and rehabilitation for people affected by the Joshimath land sinking incident with “reasonable dispatch” if the issue is raised before it.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said the apex court ought not to intervene when the Uttarakhand High Court was already seized of a broad range of issues concerning the Joshimath land sinking.

“Substantial overlap emerges between the Supreme Court and Uttarakhand High Court proceedings,” the apex court said in its order.

The top court highlighted that the Uttarakhand High Court had already, on January 12, directed the State government to strictly implement the ban on construction in Joshimath.

The Bench gave petitioner Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati liberty to approach the Uttarakhand High Court either by filing a substantial and separate petition or through intervention in the current proceedings before it.

The petitioner’s lawyer said people were dying and the government was merely shifting the victims from one house riddled with cracks to another in identical position.

“A Uttarakhand High Court Division Bench led by Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi is already seized of the issue… We do not want to use these proceedings for sound bytes for social media. We care only for relief for the people… Is the High Court under Article 226 not capable of giving it? Why can’t you raise all your issues before the High Court?” the Bench asked the petitioner side.

The Bench said the Delhi High Court too had “rightly” adjourned a similar case because the Uttarakhand High Court was hearing it.

The Uttarakhand government said it had already taken proactive measures to protect the people.

The petition had urged the court to issue a mandamus to the Union government and the National Disaster Management Authority to “assist in the reparation work. It had sought the court to direct the State government to declare compensation and provide financial support to victims.

The petition alleged that the incident in Joshimath was connected to the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) Tapovan hydro-based power project and unregulated constructions affecting ecology of the area. It had sought NTPC to provide insurance coverage to the people living in vulnerable areas. The petition had asked the court to set up a committee to protect the geography and ecology of the area.

The case in the Uttarakhand High Court had sought a restraint on hydropower projects until early warning systems were established. The petitioners in the High Court had also sought a review of the hydropower projects in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court order observed.

The High Court had underscored the importance of involving experts in hydrology, geology, geomorphology, and other scientific disciplines in the State’s study on the impact of these projects in the area.

“No development is needed at the cost of human life and their ecosystem and if any such thing is to happen, then it is the duty of the State and Union government to stop the same immediately at war level,” the plea had said.

Joshimath, the gateway to famous pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib and international skiing destination Auli, is reported to be sinking gradually with huge cracks developing in houses, roads, and fields there.

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