The Supreme Court had banned the defacing of the rocks in Himachal Pradesh by painting on them in 2002. But the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the government agency that builds and maintains roads in border areas, could not care less.
The BRO has painted slogans and road signs on more than 40 rocks and boulders along the ecologically fragile 56-km Manali-Rohtang stretch. Rocks beyond Rohtang Pass, along the road to Koksar in the Chandra river valley of Lahaul and Spiti district, have not been spared either.
This stretch is among the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and, according to geologists, a treasure trove of fossils as well. Yet roads organisation’s slogans are visible on rocks every few kilometres — from “Horn Please” signs, about two feet long and foot high, to outsized “BRO, in the service of the nation” proclamations, measuring five by eight feet.
In 2002, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of the defacement of rocks and ordered an investigation, after a newspaper reported how two cola companies and a few others, including the BRO, had painted advertisements on them.
The court-appointed Central Empowered Committee, led by member secretary M.K. Jiwrajka, visited the sites and submitted reports. In an interim order, the court imposed a consolidated fine of Rs. 2 crore on the state government and the companies responsible. It set up a corpus fund to preserve the environment in the state. The Indian Council of Conservation Institute, Lucknow, began a Rs. 1.78-crore project to restore the rocks, which it completed in 2004.
The final verdict in the case is yet to be delivered. The next hearing is on June 27.
Naresh Mittal, commander of the Unit 38 Border Roads Task Force based in Manali, which maintains the road, told HT: “The slogans have been painted at some places only to educate locals and tourists.”
Manali Sub-Divisional Magistrate Vinay Singh said, “We will write to the BRO to remove the slogans.”