SC turns down Centre's plea not to intervene in J&K flood issue

Brushing aside Centre's stand that the judiciary should not intervene on the Jammu and Kashmir flood issue, the Supreme Court on Friday asked it to provide immediate relief to the victims and consider setting up a Unified Agency to coordinate rescue and relief work.

New Delhi: Brushing aside Centre's stand that the judiciary should not intervene on the Jammu and Kashmir flood issue, the Supreme Court on Friday asked it to provide immediate relief to the victims and consider setting up a Unified Agency to coordinate rescue and relief work.

The court asked the Centre to spell out on Monday steps undertaken to accelerate rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations for the flood victims.

"It needs no emphasis from us that a calamity and disaster as huge as this deserves national response so that immediate relief is made available to the victims of floods," a bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said.

"Government of India may also consider forming a Unified Agency for proper coordination" of relief work," the court observed while taking note of the contention of petitions filed by Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Vasundhra Pathak Masoodi that the stranded people were not getting prompt help.

The Court turned down the suggestion of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that it was not appropriate at this juncture for the judiciary to intervene and entertain petitions.

"Don't treat this as an adversarial litigation. In the past also this court has intervened when disaster of high magnitude struck Uttarakhand and other states," the bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman said.

The apex court said efforts should be made by Centre and the state Government to make functional constitutional offices like High Court and offices of administration from some accommodations in Srinagar.

"How will you communicate the order of this court?" the bench said while referring to the current situation in the state.

"The executive and judiciary should start functioning in whatever way. Some accommodation must be made available so that judiciary starts functioning from the city of Srinagar. The High Court is the symbol of Constitution and face of judiciary. We would like High Court to start functioning immediately from any place in Srinagar even with two or three rooms," the bench said.

The CJI said even the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Justice Mahesh Mittal Kumar was till yesterday stranded in Jammu and they had spoken over telephone.

The Attorney General said, "Union of India is conscious of the seriousness of the situation and a committee headed by the Prime Minister is overseeing and coordinating the rescue and relief operations" and "rescue operations by the Armed Forces are working in full swing and the Chief of the Army Staff himself is monitoring these operations".

The Attorney General told the court that the armed forces have faced some incidents of stone-pelting in the rescue operations.

The forces should be allowed to continue their operations on a war-footing without any court directions, he said.

"You call us on Monday. The entire army is engaged. How can the court monitor all this? Army Chief is there to regulate. There is a calamity and all are involved," he said, adding, "it will not be proper for the court to say how and when the helicopters have to go for rescue and relief operation".

Gonsalves and others submitted that all states should be asked to press in service their helicopters and boats to overcome the shortage of these mode of transportation to evacuate the stranded people.

He said that the Centre was only allowing the helicopters of army.

Engaging NGOs working in the Valley and local population well versed with the localities would be of great help in the rescue operation, the petitioners submitted.