STATE TIMES NEWS JAMMU: A Division Bench (DB) of J&K High Court comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal on Saturday directed respondents to formulate Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)/Policy with regard to avalanches and natural disasters covering consequential reliefs, rehabilitation and compensation. The court direction came in a Public Interest Litigation filed by the displaced inhabitants of Village Saddal, Tehsil Mongri, District Udhampur, which was devastated in a flash landslide which took place in 2014. The writ petition has been necessitated on account of the failure of the respondents to take any steps to rehabilitate the landslide affected families for this long period of over 5 years. The landslide is stated to have resulted in 40 deaths and damage to 123 houses, while number of animals and livestock were buried. After hearing Advocate Deepika Mahajan for the PIL whereas Senior AAG S.S Nanda for the UT, the DB observed that after going through the compliance report an astonishing fact came to fore that the only effort made therein is to propound the estimated cost of work while the timeline merely states that the work could be completed within four or eight months from the date the funds were made available and subject to the allotment of land. “This is clearly an effort to push the responsibility from one department to another. This kind of piece-meal consideration is, to say the least, most unfortunate”, the court observed. The DB observed that given the distress of the population concerned, it has no option but to direct that this matter be placed before the Chief Secretary, who may examine the matter and ensure that all clearances and permissions as are necessary for execution of the project of rehabilitation of these affected families/population are granted, the rehabilitation commenced and completed at the earliest and ensure that firm time lines are placed before the court. DB found that various departments in the Government are uniformly adopting this practice of looking at every matter from the perspective of that department alone, even though the matter requires inter- departmental consultation. Let a mechanism be evolved so that, Court cases are addressed from the perspective of placing a composite stand of the Government after inter-departmental consultation, it held. When the PIL came-up for hearing, DB observed that the disaster victims are stated to have been shifted to village Panjar and live in dismal conditions in tents. For the reason that Panjar was also unsafe, the villagers were shifted to village Sui where they have been put in two big halls with temporary partitions in spaces of 10’X10′ with dearth of basic facilities like water and toilets. DB observed that in this background, this Court had called for a report from the Secretary, Relief and Rehabilitation of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Pawan Kotwal, Principal Secretary, Revenue Department had appeared before this court on February 5, 2020 and assured this court that the complete module for rehabilitation shall be placed before this court and it was assured to court that the nodal officers not below the rank of Directors in the concerned departments, who would be responsible for ensuring that the timelines are adhered to, would be appointed. DB observed that it had consequently, given time to S.S Nanda, Sr. AAG to place before the court a proper timeline of the various steps needed. This has not been done despite opportunities granted on February 5, 2020 and March 13, 2020, court observed. DB observed that today, we are informed by S.S Nanda that he has in hand a compliance report dated March 19, 2020 being filed which is supported by an affidavit of Sunil Kumar, Additional Secretary to Government, Disaster Management, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction department. “A copy of this report has been handed over to us. This report manifests that for the first time, action has been initiated in the matter by the departments long after the writ petition was filed”, the court observed.
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