High Court directs State Govt to pay ex gratia for yak deaths within 4 months, wants contingency pla

Gangtok, 28 Nov:

The Sikkim High Court pulled up the State Government and the Animal Husbandry Department officials for dragging its feet in paying the ex gratia of Rs 45.90 lakh to yak-herders on account of the death of more than 300 yaks due to starvation earlier this year following heavy and prolonged snowfall at Muguthang and Lashar valleys and Lachen in North Sikkim.

The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan yesterday directed the state respondents to disburse the ex gratia within four months.

The court also noted that the State’s assurance to set up a buffer stock of feed and fodder under the Natural Calamity Fund of Deputy Commissioner, North, as a contingency plan, has also not been implemented and directed the State respondents to implement the Court’s directive on this matter in letter and spirit.

Disposing the PIL, the bench observed that though the government has constructed 10 Hay Godowns-cum-Yak Shelters in Lachen valley, it appears that no such facility has been constructed in Muguthang or Lashar to avert a situation as witnessed last winter.

The Court directed that the respondents consider setting up such facilities in these two areas as past experience has shown that neither can the yaks come down nor can relief materials reach up when it is most needed because of the thick blanket of snow.

The Court further directed the Animal Husbandry Department to adopt and formulate strategies to combat such disasters and take a decision with regard to construction of paddock and supply of essential items such as tents in preparation for a situation like last winter.

While explaining the Court’s decision to take suo-moto cognizance of the death of more than 300 yaks due to starvation, the judgment records that this was to nudge the concerned agencies to come up with appropriate measures to tackle the situation should there be a recurrence of unprecedented snowfall for a prolonged period.

The Court further said that it will be necessary for the respondents to remain vigilant and take immediate rear-guard action with no loss of time by implementing the decisions on the field.

On the short term measure suggested by the Amicus Curie Jorgay Namkha for around the 1,000 yaks along with its herders in and around the Muguthang region and nearly the same number on the Gurudongmar side, the bench directed the State Government to immediately make provisions to supply feed to last for 3 months by the end of November. This will require around 1,80,000 kg of feed for yaks at Muguthang and Gurudongmar.

As per the state government’s latest survey conducted in the second week of October, there are 79 yak herding households in North District with a yak population of 3,230. At present, there are six yak rearing zones in North Sikkim – Muguthang and Lashar under Lachen Dzumsa, Yumthang / Yumesamdong and Sebu/ Domang under Lachung Dzumsa, Chyakhung under Naga Forest and Tholung in Upper Dzongu.

The most number of yak herding households are in Muguthang at 48 followed by lashar with 30 yak-herding households.

The Chief Secretary, in his affidavit, informed the Court that the state government has kept aside an amount of Rs 26,09,000 for the financial year 2019-20 for the welfare of yaks and that the said fund will be utilised for purchase of feed and fodder (complete feed block) and purchase of ambulance, medicines and equipment, procurement of tents & other contingency expenditure.

As an interim relief, Rs 18,10,000 has been arranged, out of which Rs 9,20,000 is to be used for purchase of complete feed block for 20 MT and a sum of Rs 8,89,000 for purchase of an ambulance. It is stated that the Planning and Development Department has committed to provide fund in the supplementary budget.