June 27, 2016 4:17:31 am
AFTER a year of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on commercial activities and restrictions on the number of vehicles, Himachal’s famed high-altitude mountain pass looks clean. Dhabas and other unauthorised constructions that gave it an untidy look, and haphazardly parked vehicles blocking traffic on the Manali-Keylong National Highway are gone. The food wrappers and empty water bottles are gone. No eatables are allowed at Rohtang Pass. There is now more open space for the tourists to walk around. Since the NGT order, only 800 petrol and 400 diesel (total 1,200) vehicles are permitted per day.
But the Pass, 48 km from Manali, is the subject of new concerns — that of the livelihood of locals during the three summer months that used to see peak tourist traffic.
The NGT action has deprived hundreds of local families engaged in tourism of their livelihood. Six panchayats — Palchan, Manali, Vashisth, Chaleen, Nasogi and Bhuria — are most severely hit. Almost 80 per cent of the families here were linked directly to tourism business of renting dresses, dhabas, photography, snow scooters, paragliding and taxis.
Last month, NGT eased the ban to enable some non-polluting activities like photography, renting of pahari dresses and paragliding. But the much-awaited rehabilitation plan to help those who have been rendered jobless by the NGT orders is yet to take shape.
It has been a poor season barring a fortnight’s heavy arrivals. One reason is that there was little snow last winter, and only thin patches survived into the season. Hoteliers say the restrictions may have been a dampener.
Officials regulating the permit system at the Manali Sub-Divisional Magistrate office, however, say they have been able to meet the daily demands for 1,200 vehicles.
“We have started giving permits online as per NGT orders. It is open to all and anybody can access the website. Tourists bound for Keylong in Lahaul-Spiti of Leh can also apply and get the permits. Of course, they too have access to Rohtang Pass as that is the route for both places. We do not, however, allow them to return same day to ensure permits are not misused,” said Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, Hans Raj Chauhan.
Hoteliers blame the government for not doing enough on the ground, and failing to put up the case properly before the Tribunal. “It’s wrong to say glaciers at Rohtang Pass were melting due to tourists or vehicles. We have accessed research papers from leading institutions to support our argument that no glaciers exists at Rohtang. Moreover, the tourist season is limited to barely two months in a year,” said Anup Thakur, president, Manali Hoteliers’ association.
Thakur argues that ban is no solution to the problem of pollution. It’s all about regulating tourists’ traffic. “We also want to protect Rohtang Pass for prosperity, it is our biggest selling point. What we are stressing is dispersal of tourists’ to other places near Manali.,” he said. The association has suggested the development of five such sites — Hamta, Brighu Lake, Kothi Ropeway for Vashisth-Palchan, Gulaba, and Paralsu.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.