New tourist destinations to ease pressure on Rohtang
With the National Green Tribunal (NGT) having refused to relax the ban on commercial activities at the Rohtang Pass and its surrounding areas, the Himachal Pradesh government is now mulling to create new tourist destinations to divert the heavy influx of tourists to the snow-covered gateway to Lahaul and Spiti district.
Additional chief secretary (forest) Tarun Shridhar recently visited Rohtang and Manali and held deliberations with the stakeholders, majority of who stressed upon developing new tourist destinations close to Manali.
The NGT ban on July 6 has affected an estimated 4,000 families residing in nine villages of the area. For the past many years, these locals were engaged – legally or illegally – in providing snow scooter, ATV, horse riding and paragliding services besides running ‘dhabas’ (makeshift roadside eateries) to tourists at various places like Solang, Marhi, Vashishth and the Rohtang Pass.
An average number of 3,000 tourists visited the mighty Rohtang Pass during peak tourist season. But the tourist arrivals declined after the NGT ban, leaving the stakeholders, including hotel owners, dhabas, taxi operators, and those engaged in tourism activities high and dry.
“We are planning new tourist destinations to ease pressure on the Rohtang Pass and provide new avenues of employment to those affected by the ban,” Shridhar told Hindustan Times.
Earlier, the principal NGT bench comprising justice Swatanter Kumar and expert member Dr Devendra K Aggarwal had directed the Himachal Pradesh government to submit a plan for the rehabilitation of families whose livelihood was affected by the ban. The tribunal had also asked the government to hold consultations with stakeholders before compiling its report.
Meanwhile, the government has decided not to issue new permits for taxis and snow scooters. “Protecting the environment is the responsibility of all involved in the tourism business,” Shridhar said, adding that the stakeholders conceded the fact.
The government also discussed the traffic plans for Rohtang Pass after the 8.8km tunnel below it was completed. While work on the tunnel, located 51 km from Manali, began in June 2010, it is expected to complete by 2017.
Besides the ban, the NGT bench had directed the government to issue computerised permits to vehicle owners intending to visit the Rohtang Pass. NGT had made it mandatory to maintain a record of visitors, including photo identity, and those found indulging in malpractices would be debarred from plying vehicles on the Manali-Rohtang Pass. It also directed to allow each vehicle only one trip to the Rohtang Pass per day.