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

January 16, 2023 09:30 pm | Updated 09:30 pm IST

Cracks appeared in a hotel, in land subsidence affected area in Joshimath, on January 16, 2023.

Cracks appeared in a hotel, in land subsidence affected area in Joshimath, on January 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

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.

Justice has been denied, say activists fighting for Joshimath 

Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision of refusing to entertain a petition seeking to declare the Joshimath crisis as ‘national disaster’, and asking the petitioners to approach the Uttarakhand High Court, Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, said that his ‘apprehension’ was proved true.

‘Justice has been denied us by the HC last time. Now who will pay for the damage,” questioned Mr Sati.

Informing about the public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by him and four other people, including Sohan Singh (grandson of Chipko Movement’s leader Gaura Devi), Sati said that the Supreme Court asked the petitioners to go to the same court (Uttarakhand HC) that had called him ‘puppets’ and had declined his petition in 2021 after imposing a penalty of ₹50,000.

In February 2021 floods, over 200 people had died at Raini village in Joshimath. Later, the locals had approached the Uttarakhand High Court where then Chief Justice Raghvendra Chauhan had rejected the petition in the first hearing itself.

“In that appeal, we requested the High Court to order for reconsidering the NTPC power project in Joshimath and ban the activities of environmental destruction in this area. The justice then had called us ‘puppets’. Today, the same project has become a threat to the existence of a town,” he said.

Enraged with ‘inaction’ of the government against the NTPC, posters of ‘Go back NTPC’ have been put up in the town. Almost every second house and shop has a poster demanding an immediate ban on the power project in the area.

The Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (JBSS) has also announced to organise a protest across the town on January 26th. Demanding the government to take money for the rehabilitation of Joshimath from the NTPC, the villagers will stage a protest at the Tehsil office on the Republic Day.

No demonstration of remote EVMs before political parties after Opposition seeks more discussion 

No demonstration of the remote electronic voting machines (RVM) before political parties was held after the Opposition sought more discussion. The date for political parties to submit written responses has now been extended to February 28 from January 31, according to sources.

The political parties sought for consensus on the issue, sources said. Opposition parties questioned the need to deploy remote voting machines and urged the Election Commission (EC) to address the issue of urban apathy towards the poll process.

The EC was scheduled to showcase the remote electronic voting machine (RVM) prototype for migrant voters to representatives of political parties on January 16.

“No Opposition party wants to see the demonstration of an RVM. First, the issue of the need to have such a machine should be settled,” senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told reporters after participating in a meeting of political parties convened by the EC for the demonstration of the workings of an RVM. The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister said he felt that there would be no RVM demonstration till there is a consensus on having one. No political party is prepared to see the demonstration, he said.

The poll panel had invited eight recognised national parties and 57 recognised State parties for a demonstration on Monday morning. The letter stated that they have been invited for a “discussion on improving voter participation of domestic migrants using remote voting.” 

A view of Election Commission of India,  in New Delhi. File

A view of Election Commission of India, in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

While inviting parties for the demonstration of the prototype, the poll panel had also issued a concept note on the technology. Parties were also asked to give in writing their views on issues such as changes required in the law to allow the use of RVM.

If implemented after stakeholder consultations, migrant voters do not need to travel to their home districts to exercise their franchise.

Terming counting of votes cast at remote booths and their transmission to the returning officer in other states as a “technological challenge”, Election Commission officials had earlier said RVMs will be developed as “a robust, failproof and efficient stand-alone system” based on existing electronic voting machines and will not be connected to the internet.

The multi-constituency remote EVM, developed by public sector undertaking Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), can handle up to 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth.

ECIL and Bharat Electronics Ltd are the two PSUs manufacturing the EVMs. The RVM is a modified version of the time-tested model of M3 (Mark 3) EVMs to enable voting at remote polling stations—polling stations outside home constituency, for domestic migrants. The initiative, if implemented, can lead to a “social transformation” for migrants, the EC had said last month.

However, most of the Opposition parties have decided to oppose the Election Commission’s proposal on the RVM as it is “sketchy” and not “concrete”, Singh said on January 15.

He made the remarks after a meeting of Opposition parties facilitated by the Congress that was attended by leaders of the JD(U), Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI(M), National Conference, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Revolutionary Socialist Party, Indian Union Muslim League, as well as Independent Rajya Sabha MP and former Congress leader Kapil Sibal.

CPI General Secretary D. Raja said all the parties that were at the meeting will also attend the Election Commission’s prototype demonstration and raise critical concerns.

Singh said the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party were also on board the Opposition deliberations, though their representatives were not present at the meeting. “The overall view of all political parties that attended today was to unanimously oppose the proposal of RVM because it is still very sketchy. The proposal is not concrete. There are political anomalies and problems in the proposal,” Singh said.

“The definition of migrant labour, and the number of migrant labour is all not very clear. Therefore, we all have unanimously made up our mind to oppose the proposal of RVM,” he said.

Singh said the EC has asked the parties to give their reply by January 31, and so those parties that attended the meeting will meet again on January 25 and send their reply either jointly or separately but with a clear view that they “don’t support RVM”.

At the same time there have been numerous concerns about the trust on EVM machines and all those concerns which have been documented after a detailed discussion with computer science experts, professionals and cryptographers will be raised, he said.

Singh noted that the civil society had given a memorandum to the EC in May 2022 but the poll panel had not even responded to them. Responding to a question, Singh said all parties that had expressed concern over EVMs and RVMs were invited. He said BSP chief Mayawati has also spoken against EVM. “We invite her to join this initiative,” he said.

Govt. ‘intimidating’ judiciary with view to ‘capture’ it: Congress on Kiren Rijiju’s letter to CJI 

The Congress on January 16 accused the government of “intimidating” the judiciary in a bid to “capture” it, after Law Minister Kiren Rijiju wrote to Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud suggesting the inclusion of the Union and state government representatives in the Supreme Court and High Court collegiums.

Rijiju has sought this representation, saying it will help infuse transparency and public accountability in the selection of judges.

“The VP’s assaults. The Law Minister’s attacks. All this is orchestrated confrontation with the judiciary to intimidate and thereafter capture it totally,” AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter.

“The Collegium needs reform. But what this Government wants is complete subservience. Its remedy is a poison pill for the judiciary,” he also said. Justifying the letter to CJI, Law Minister Rijiju said in a tweet, “the contents in the letter to hon’ble CJI are exactly in conformity with the observations and directions of the Supreme Court Constitution Bench.”

“Convenient politics is not advisable, especially in the name of the Judiciary. The Constitution of India is supreme and nobody is above it,” Rijiju also said. He said the government’s demand for the inclusion of its representatives and that of states in collegiums of the Supreme Court and high courts was the “precise follow-up action” suggested by the apex court while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act.

Rijiju made the remarks while responding to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who dubbed as “extremely dangerous” the government’s move to ask the Supreme Court to include its nominees in the collegium.

“I hope you honour Court’s direction! This is a precise follow-up action of the direction of the Supreme Court Constitution Bench while striking down the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act. The SC Constitution Bench had directed to restructure the MoP (Memorandum of Procedure) of the collegium system,” Rijiju said on Twitter.

“This is extremely dangerous. There should be absolutely no government interference in judicial appointments,” Kejriwal said on Twitter.

Tejashwi Yadav responds tentatively to his party colleague’s controversial comment 

Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav has stated guardedly that the Constitution of India is the “holiest book” in the plethora of “religious” texts. “The Constitution has given everyone the right to express their feelings. At the same time, the Constitution also says that we must respect all religions,” Yadav said while addressing media persons at the Patna airport on his return from Delhi.

This was Yadav’s maiden attempt at toning down the impact of the controversy triggered by Education Minister and senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Chandra Shekhar on the Ramcharitmanas. Chandra Shekhar had said that Tulsidas’ epic had “spread hatred in society” because of certain casteist ideas.

RJD State unit president Jagadanand Singh supported Chandra Shekhar in public, after which the party’s national vice president, Shivanand Tiwari, said that the comments were Chandra Shekhar’s personal views.

Yadav further alleged that the BJP, unnerved by the work done by the Bihar Government in terms of jobs being provided, and the caste-based census, was behind the controversy. BJP leaders, including Rajya Sabha member from Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, have been demanding that Chandra Shekhar be removed from the State Cabinet.

Yadav also stressed that there were only two leaders in the seven-party mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) that has presently formed the government — Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar — who enjoy people’s support. “Those who are speaking a lot are bayanveers (oversharers),” Yadav said.

Petitions have been filed in courts in Bihar, accusing the Minister of “hurting religious sentiments”. Leaders from the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), also a part of the mahagathbandhan, are demanding that Chandra Shekhar withdraw the statement.

Without naming Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda, Yadav alleged that two top leaders of the BJP had recently visited Bihar to advise local BJP leaders on creating a rift within the grand alliance. “There is no question of a break-up in the grand alliance. BJP leaders are scared ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” Yadav said.

In Brief: 

The 259th session of Rajya Sabha will commence on January 31 and end on April 6, a statement from the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union Budget 2023-24 on February 1. “The President has summoned the Rajya Sabha to meet on Tuesday, the 31st January 2023, at New Delhi. Subject to exigencies of business, the Session is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, the 6th April 2023,” the statement said. Parliament’s Budget Session will begin from January 31 with President Droupadi Murmu’s address to the joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Evening Wrap will return tomorrow. 

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