In a landmark judgment, the National Green Tribunal, taking note of the need for protection of the Rohtang Pass glacier, has ordered that fee be imposed on those travelling to the glacier by public or private vehicles.
In its orders dated February 6, the principal bench of the NGT at New Delhi directed the state government to adopt measures that include contribution on the 'polluter pays' principle.
Under this, all vehicles, including trucks, buses and others, that pass through the route ahead of Vashishta and Rohtang Pass, shall be liable to pay `100 for heavy vehicles, and `50 for light vehicles.
People travelling to Rohtang by CNG or electric busses would have to pay `20 per head, which would be a part of the bus ticket.
The funds collected would be kept by the state government under the existing head of Green Tax Fund, which is presently collected for entry to Manali, and would be used exclusively for development of the area from Vashishta to Rohtang Pass, and five km ahead of Rohtang Pass.
The NGT directed that this amount should also be used for prevention and control of pollution, development of ecologically-friendly market at Marhi, restoring the vegetative cover and afforestation. The funds shall not be used for any other purpose.
Vehicles belonging to the Border Road Organisation (BRO) and the Army would be exempted from paying the Green Tax. The General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) and BRO have been directed to ensure that the road remains in a motorable condition round the year.
To check vehicular pollution, the NGT issued directions for the setting up of common check posts or barriers by the authorities concerned, particularly by the tourism department, BRO, police, pollution control board and the directorate of weights and measures, at the entry point to the climb near Vashishta.
It said the use of snow-scooters older than four years or other than battery-operated at Rohtang Pass should be restricted.
The state government would install computerised weigh-in-motion systems to check over-loading of the vehicles.
The government may operate CNG or electric vehicles itself, or may outsource them, but directly under its control and supervision in the public or public-private sector.
Petrol-driven vehicles plying in Manali and surrounding areas of Rohtang Pass should have catalytic convertors, and preferably, diesel-driven vehicles should be provided with soot collector system.
Steps to be taken within three months of the order include provision of cleanliness and public amenities at Rohtang Pass and en route.
The NGT said the state government may develop at Marhai a small, temporary, eco-friendly market, which will provide daily necessities and eco-friendly toilets for tourists.
Besides, it directed the government to restore and maintain forest areas by controlling traffic density, reforestation, taking measures for prevention and control of forest fires, prevention of deforestation, and promotion of tree cover, shrubs, bushes and grass.
It asked the government to identify immediate and effective measures for reforestation of Kothi, Gulaba and Marhi areas.
It also directed the state to constitute a monitoring committee, comprising the environment secretary, Kullu conservator of forests, tourism director, state pollution control board environmental engineer and an eminent environmentalist from GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora. This committee would ensure that the directions are carried out.
The committee would submit quarterly reports to the NGT, with details of non-compliance, defaulters and suggestions for prevention of pollution.
The tribunal asked the state to explore the possibility of providing a ropeway from Vashishta to Rohtang Pass, adding that the GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development would conduct a study of the Rohtang Pass glacier six months after the passing of the order and submit a report.