The National Green Tribunal's decision to ban commercial activities at the Rohtang Pass appears to have taken on political overtones with Congress party leaders urging Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh to take immediate steps to ensure sustainable tourism in the area a day after the Kullu BJP MLA Govind Thakur demanded the ban be lifted.
The Himachal Congress Pradesh Committee's chief spokesman, Naresh Chauhan, said the tribunal's ban on adventure sports operators, owners of 'dhabas' (makeshift roadside eateries) and taxi operators had affected the livelihood of thousands of area residents.
"Not only locals but tourists have also been hit hard by the ban. Without any adventure sports like paragliding and snow biking and refreshment facilities at the Rohtang Pass and in Manali, these places will lose their attraction as tourist hotspots. The tourism and hospitality sector in the Kullu-Manali region has been adversely affected by the ban," he added.
Chauhan urged the chief minister to intervene and take measures to ensure the tourism sector did not suffer any further losses on account of the green tribunal ban. "The Congress party agrees with the National Green Tribunal's view on the deteriorating environment in the area but safeguarding the livelihood of thousands of locals is also our government's duty. Hence some middle way should be found with the aim of protecting the environment and at the same time enabling the locals to carry on their activities in the area," he said.
"More than 6 lakh people are involved in tourism-related activities in the state. They include hotel and guest house owners, taxi operators, adventure sports operators and dhaba and small shop owners. The tourism industry accounts for about 6% of the state's revenues. In view of these cold facts the state government should file a petition with the National Green Tribunal urging it to repeal the ban and also find ways to develop and promote tourism-related activities in the area, at the same time keeping in mind the fragile ecology of the region," Chauhan said.