Manali, June 24 (IANS) The road to the majestic Rohtang Pass overlooking this picturesque resort town is meandering its way through inconveniences ever since the National Green Tribunal limited the passing of vehicles on a road much frequented by tourists.
Here’s how it works: If you want to visit the Rohtang Pass, located 52 km from here, you have to stand in a queue from midnight to get a vehicle permit from the district tourism officer to cross the pass. Each petrol vehicle allowed to the Rohtang Pass for tourism purposes would pay an environmental cess of Rs.1,000 per visit. The cess is Rs.2,500 for diesel vehicles.
Or, you have to shell out Rs.5,000 ($80) to Rs.7,000 extra as bribe to visit the pass, located at an altitude of 13,050 feet.
The tribunal, in its order, observed that the ice mass on the Rohtang Pass is reducing rapidly due to vehicular pollution and may vanish altogether in the next 20 to 25 years.
The tribunal, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, also restricted the number of vehicles to the Rohtang Pass to 1,000 per day on a first-come-and-first-served basis. These included 600 petrol and 400 diesel vehicles.
Earlier, the tribunal banned all tourist vehicles on the Rohtang Pass. Later, it kept the ban in abeyance till August 14.
Sanjay Khurana, a tourist from Chandigarh, said he stood in a queue for over five hours to get a permit. But before his turn came, the limit was over.
The situation remained the same the next day, he said.
“Finally, we decided to skip the visit as the taxi operators were demanding Rs.7,000 for a to-and-fro visit to the Rohtang Pass,” Khurana told IANS.
He said the tourists start standing in queue from midnight and the taxi operators are fleecing the tourists in the name of permits.
“After trying our luck three times, we finally got the permit on the fourth day,” Vishnu Vardhan Reddy, a tourist from Hyderabad, told IANS.
Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar said that on an average, around 10,000 tourists reach Manali daily. Most of them are destined for the Rohtang Pass, still wrapped with snow cover in some stretches.
“On an average 500 to 600 vehicles of the tourists, both diesel and petrol, daily enter Manali these days. Similarly, 3,000 to 5,000 tourists are coming in state-run and chartered buses,” Kanwar told IANS.
“We can’t accommodate all the tourists. Our limit for issuing the permits daily is 1,000 vehicles — 600 petrol and 400 diesel. We have fixed a 70 percent quota for the local taxi operators and the remaining for private vehicle owners,” Kanwar said.
According to him, the government daily issues 300 permits to the private vehicle owners and the remaining 700 to the taxi operators.
He admitted complaints were coming against the taxi operators for demanding exorbitant fare.
The state-run Himachal Road Transport Corporation has been allowed to ply 20 buses daily across the Rohtang Pass for the convenience of the tourists and the locals.
Official sources said some travel agents are getting the bus tickets booked in advance and are reselling them at exorbitant rates in the black market.
P.C. Thakur, president of the Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, said the tourists should hire taxis only from the union and shun private operators.
The picturesque Rohtang Pass is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Excessive emission of carbon monoxide from the vehicles and huge quantities of trash left behind by tourists on the Rohtang Pass are taking a heavy toll on the snow cover, says the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a Nagpur-based institute that has carried out studies on the impact of pollution on the local ecology.