Restrictions on access to Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh will continue as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday refused to stay the operation of its earlier direction limiting the entry of diesel and petrol tourist vehicles to 1,000 a day.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar refused to relax its May 5 order, which had put a cap on the number of vehicles passing through Rohtang per day to 1,000 - 600 petrol and 400 diesel vehicles.
The directions came while hearing a plea of the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators' Union through senior advocate Vibha Dutt Makhija, after the Supreme Court refused to provide them relief while asking them to approach the NGT for their grievances.
"What efforts your association has initiated except for creating a hue and cry. The state government has not moved an inch to restore the environment. Himachal Pradesh is one of the best states in the country. It has got tremendous tourism potential. The state government has ruined the situation. Eighteen hydropower projects in Himachal, what will happen to the state? What will you do with the electricity produced if there is no environment? You cannot finish Rohtang Pass like this. You cannot ruin nature. Can you restore the glacier which is reducing by one metre per year," the bench said.
The tribunal directed the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and the Himachal government to sit together and work out a feasible solution to the problem. It also asked the taxi operators to file suggestions for permitting greater number of taxis through Rohtang Pass in proportion to the number of tourists.
Expressing concern over the rapid pace of degradation of environment in Himachal, the bench said: "Have you seen what has happened to Kufri. We used to have skiing all the winters in Kufri. But today, there is hardly any ice visible. This is what you will do to Rohtang. Then you will build a nice government office there."
During the hearing, the counsel for the Himachal Pradesh government said the state was worried about the environment and health of the people and it was complying with the NGT directions. The state government told the NGT that it had undertaken several steps for environment protection, including complete polythene ban and removal of 150 local eateries from the Manali-Rohtang area.
Earlier, the tribunal had stayed its order to impose an environmental compensation of `2,500 and `1,000 on diesel and petrol-operated tourist vehicles, respectively, for Rohtang Pass. The tourist vehicles having a capacity of more than five persons were to be charged `5,000 per day.
The 13,050 feet Rohtang Pass, which links the Kullu valley to the tribal Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal, is situated on the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas around 50km from Manali.
On May 26, the Supreme Court had declined to stay the directions and had asked the affected parties to address their grievances before the NGT. The apex court had only stayed one direction of the green panel that all vehicles would be subjected to pollution checks and should get certificates at the check post to comply with BS-IV standards before being allowed to operate in the scenic Rohtang Pass area.
In its May 5 order, the NGT had restricted the number of vehicles passing through Rohtang Pass for tourism purposes to 600 petrol and 400 diesel per day on first-come, first-serve basis and directed that each vehicle allowed would pay an environmental cess.
The NGT had said the amount thus collected should be kept in an account under a separate head by the state government and should be utilised only for the purpose of restoring ecology and environment.
It had also directed the state government to post a team of the police, transport and other departments at the Vashisht and Gulaba areas between Manali and Rohtang with complete infrastructure and machinery.