Manali mess: 8-hour jam cleared, but row between taxi operators, admn far from over
Taxi drivers to Rohtang ready to pay fine but don’t want administration to cancel permits of traffic violators for fortnightUpdated: Jun 06, 2017, 20:35 IST
Hours after a jam due to protest by taxi drivers near Manali was cleared overnight, the Kullu district administration on Tuesday imposed prohibitory orders against assembly of people, apprehending protests.
The drivers are protesting the blacklisting of some operators for flouting norms by driving without permit and overcharging — particularly on the strictly regulated Rohtang Pass route via Manali — said reports from Manali, 250km from state capital Shimla. The administration in the last 10 days has blacklisted 3,000 vehicles from plying to Rohtang Pass.
As the cabbies resorted to a protest starting Monday night, nearly 2,000 vehicles were stranded for eight hours on the Kullu-Manali road before they relented around 3 am on Tuesday after the district administration intervened.
That’s when tourists returning from Manali, stuck in the jam 8 km from Kullu, resumed their journey. “Our hotel was only 4 km away. We would have reached in 10 minutes but the traffic jam forced us to remain in the vehicle for four hours,” Hardik Sinha, a Delhi-based businessman, said. Some tourists changed their plan to visit Manali. “We will now go to Kinnaur instead,” said Sahil Sharma, a Delhi University student. Nikhil Sachdeva, a Sonepat-based banker, said, “There was no escape as traffic was disrupted even towards Kullu. It was disappointing.”
Unprepared admn, fleecing operators
The administration appeared unprepared to handle the tourist rush in Manali after Rohtang Pass was opened for vehicular traffic last month. With the mercury crossing 40 degrees Celsius in the plains of North India, June is the peak tourist season in Himachal’s hills.
Manali thus has become a hunting ground for unscrupulous taxi operators who are charging tourists up to Rs 8,000 for a vehicle, at least four times the usual rate.
But the locals allege that majority of the permits are issued to operators from outside the state. “Since the local operators and hoteliers face problem of bad internet connectivity, those involved in the large-scale hospitality industry are able to get the permits,” said a local BJP legislator, Govind Thakur. He claimed, “Not even a single vehicle from outside the state has been black listed,” though that could not cross-checked.
The NGT order
Taxi operators’ union president Raj Kumar Dogra said, “We will meet the district officials again. We will not buy hollow assurances this time.” Operator Jeet Thakur said, “The district administration should fine the violators rather than bar them from plying vehicles from Manali to Rohtang for a fortnight.”
However, deputy commissioner Yunus Khan said that some of the taxi operators’ demands are unjust. “They can’t defy orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT),” he said.
The NGT has ordered that drivers cannot ply vehicles to Rohtang Pass without permit with a fee of Rs 550 per vehicle. The tribunal has ordered that a maximum of 1,200 vehicles can go to Rohtang from Manali a day.
Manali Hoteliers Association president Gajender Thakur said the drivers’ protest could hit tourism. “Tourists were left high and dry. Many left their vehicles on the roadside and walked to their hotels. The administration should resolve this issue at the earliest.”