June 16, 2011 2:12:17 am
Its only a week since the Rohtang Pass reopened for tourists after six months but the 6,000 vehicles travelling across everyday have already changed the landscape visibly enough to cause environmental scientists worries.
The snow has started to turn dark,apparently due to vehicular emissions. Large portions of the glaciers have melted after 30 feet of snow in the winter. Heaps of plastic bottles and noodles and chips wrappers now litter the pass,which environmental scientists call the most ecologically fragile mountain site
The Rohtang Pass connects Manali with Lahual valley and Spitis cold deserts. Just how much it can carry is being studied but the Kullu-based centre of the G P Pant Institute of Environment and Development believes the limit has already been crossed.
The number of vehicles and tourists going to the top of the mountain has been estimated at approximately 18,000-20,000 everyday. The number is much higher than its carrying capacity. If this number is not restricted,or regulated effectively,it will have a permanent impact on the local ecology. The rise in temperature,garbage and vehicular emissions will hasten the melting of snow and eventually will turn this wonderful natural site into a desert, warns Dr Jagdish C Kuniyal,a senior scientist at the centre. The littered pass presents a stark contrast to Manali,which has rid itself of polythene bags since October 2,2009.
Studies by the centre have recorded the rising pollution in the last five to 10 years. Other studies have found that the temperature at Rohtang has risen 0.9°C in the last two decades.
The craze this year has been higher than ever,with many tourists opting not to wait for daybreak before setting off from Manali. They have been leaving as early as 2.30 am. Yet many remain stuck in long traffic jams for six to seven hours.
The High Court had directed the state to regulate the flow of tourists but the only measure imposed by the district administration has been to freeze the pass on Tuesdays. Even this has been resisted by taxi operators.
There is an urgent need to do a study on the carry capacity study of Rohtang Pass. The number of vehicles reaching Rohtang Pass has increased nearly 100 or 200 per cent,making it a most environmentally stressed site, admits deputy commissioner,Kullu,B M Nanta.
The Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board has commissioned such a study but the results will be out only after the current tourist season,after which a strategy can be planned.
The district administration last year proposed a ban on tourist vehicles but the government was against the idea. A committee headed by Chief Secretary Rajwant Sandhu,which visited Manali last month,cleared a plan for shuttle buses,but this will mean negotiating with 2,000 taxi operators before their vehicles can be replaced.
Its an issue linked to the livelihood of 2,000 families. We have identified a place near Marhi,where parking space for 2,000 vehicles will be created to reduce the load on the pass, says Govind Thakur,Kullu MLA.
Cant we simply restrict the number of vehicles or persons going to Rohtang,or even stop vehicles that dont conform to emission standards? says Mamta Chander,who runs an NGO. She suggests a cable-car/ropeway,an option which,in fact,has already been cleared by the tourism department.
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