Green Tribunal Comes In The Way Of Rohtang Pass And Tourists
An NGT order banning plying of vehicles around Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh will hit tourism, reports Vipin Pubby
Rohtang Pass Out of Bounds
- On August 17, Manali district administration imposed a ban on plying of tourist vehicles on the Manali-Rohtang road following an NGT directive
- About 35 lakh tourists visit Manali per year and the town has about 4,000 taxies registered
- Earlier this year, NGT also directed that all kiosks, including eateries, along the Manali-Rohtang road to shut down
- The NGT decided that high tourist activity in and around Rohtang and Solang adversely affected ecological balance
- NGT has directed HP government to provide for CNG-run buses to ply tourists to the pass, but no decision so far
At 13,500 feet, the Rohtang Pass near Manali in Himachal Pradesh, is the most easily accessible high mountain pass in India and has been a favourite of lakhs of tourists visiting the twin destinations of Kullu-Manali every year.
On Monday, however, the district administration imposed a ban on plying of tourist vehicles on the Manali-Rohtang road following a directive of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The Rohtang Pass, linked to Manali by 52-km narrow, meandering road which takes one from an elevation of about 7,000 feet to 13,500 feet, has been the star attraction for tourists visiting the Valley of Gods. The pass, which connects Manali with Lahaul-Spiti, remains closed for vehicles in any case for at least five months a year due to heavy snowfall. Tourists enjoy the snow at the pass even during the summer months.
Tourism Will be Hit
According to an estimate, about 35 lakh tourists visit Manali every year and the town has about 4,000 taxies registered with the authorities. Almost every household in the small town is associated with the tourism industry in one way or the other. The other major tourist destination near Manali, the Solang valley, too has been barred for tourists. The area was known for paragliding and winter sports.
Earlier this year, the NGT ordered the Himachal Pradesh government to impose a ban on plying of all commercial and tourist vehicles to Rohtang and Solang valley. It also directed that all kiosks, including eateries, along the Manali-Rohtang road to shut down.
Following a hue and cry by taxi operators and hoteliers, the NGT had agreed to partially lift the ban during the tourist season this year. It allowed restricted movement of 1,000 vehicles, including 600 petrol driven vehicles, per day to the Rohtang Pass, till August 15. Now, in view of no further NGT directive, the district administration has imposed a blanket ban on tourist vehicles.
NGT’s Ecology Logic
The NGT directive was based on the ground that high tourist activity in and around Rohtang and Solang was adversely affecting the sensitive ecological balance in the area. The NGT formed its own team and asked scientists from the G B Pant Institute and Development to survey the levels of pollution and the damage it had caused to the ecology.
Its preliminary report said that the primary cause of pollution was the plying of a huge number of diesel and petrol vehicles. Its team found the extent of black carbon and aerosol optical much higher than permissible standards.
Incidentally, one of the reports on which the NGT relied, said that pollution had also affected the glaciers near Rohtang Pass. The claim came under severe attack as there is no glacier in a radius of over 10 kms of Rohtang. Even the study undertaken by the G B Pant Institute came under criticism and some other experts from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Geomorphology Department pointed out that the carbon dioxide level at Rohtang was much less than what was claimed by the institute.
The NGT has directed the HP government to provide for CNG-run buses to ply tourists to the pass. However, the government is still studying the feasibility and its officers say it would take a few months before such vehicles can be arranged.
The NGT ban, however, does not cover plying of vehicles to and from Keylong in Lahaul-Spiti valley and Ladakh which usually pass through Rohtang Pass. However, legal action would be taken against those who visit the pass on the pretext of going to Keylong.
The construction of a tunnel below the pass to connect Manali with Lahaul-Spiti is already underway. The 8.8-km-long tunnel would make it possible for people to travel to the tribal areas throughout the year. Construction work started in 2010 and till now about half the length has been dug. It is expected to open after about two years but that would be no solace for tourists who want to feel the rarefied air and cold surroundings of Rohtang Pass.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)
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