Over 40,000 taxis went off the road in Himachal Pradesh on Friday in protest against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order restricting the entry of vehicles to the Rohtang Pass, overlooking picturesque destination of Manali, and the imposition of a heavy cess.
"All taxi, maxi-cab and auto operator unions in the state have joined the day-long strike call of the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union of Manali," commercial vehicle joint action committee chairman Jeet Ram Sharma told IANS.
He said the strike will continue till midnight of May 29.
Thousands of tourists who are holidaying in the hills to escape the scorching heat of the plains have been inconvenienced by the strike.
"It was a really harrowing experience on reaching Shimla this (Friday) morning. There was no taxi and the potters were demanding exorbitant fare. The government should make transportation arrangements," Priya Joseph, a tourist from Delhi, said.
On an average, about 10,000 tourists arrive in Shimla and Manali and other popular destination on a single day during the peak tourist season.
Meanwhile, the indefinite strike by Manali-based Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union has entered the eleventh day on Friday.
P.C. Thakur, president of the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, told IANS that the NGT decision would severely hit the livelihood of over 1,500 taxi drivers and those associated with the hospitality business.
He said all business establishments in Manali town have also joined the strike on Friday.
The NGT has allowed restricted movement of 1,000 vehicles, including 600 petrol-driven, for three months from May 15 across the Rohtang Pass, some 52 km from Manali.
Each vehicle allowed to the Rohtang Pass for tourism purposes would pay an environmental cess at the rate of Rs.1,000 for petrol vehicles per visit. For diesel vehicles, the cess is Rs.2,500.
The picturesque Rohtang Pass is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Refraining from extending any relief from its order, the NGT on Thursday asked the state government to file a reply on how it would address the grievances of tourist vehicle operators. It was hearing a review petition of the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union.
The NGT bench, while listing the case for the next hearing on May 29, headed by judicial member U.D. Salvi observed that its only concern was to protect the environment and it has taken a measured approach.