Expressing concern over heightened tourist inflow in Lahaul-Spiti district once the Rohtang Pass tunnel opens for public, the National Green Tribunal has asked Himachal Pradesh government to spell out the measures it plans to take to protect the eco-sensitive zone.
The NGT also directed the state government to submit "precautionary and remedial" measures it proposes to take with regard to the eco-sensitive and sparsely populated area, which remains cut off by snow for most parts of the year. The concern emanated from the experience in Manali which, experts say, is on the verge of an ecological disaster.
A population of over 33,OOO people in Lahaul-Spiti, mostly Buddhists, are awaiting the construction of the 8.8 km Rohtang tunnel, which would provide round-the-year connectivity to the remote Lahaul-Spiti valley. The authorities propose to open up the tunnel by March next year.
Currently, Rohtang Pass is the only way to reach Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti, or connect to Ladakh and is shut for most of the year. The tunnel would reduce the distance between Manali and Keylong by about 60 km.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, which has already imposed restrictions on commercial activity and tourist vehicles near Rohtang Pass which divides Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti districts, has warned that the tourist rush, once the tunnel opens, must not disturb the ecology.
"We direct the State of Himachal Pradesh to file affidavit within one week stating the precautionary and remedial measures that are being taken in regard to Lahaul & Spiti as they propose to open tunnel in the month of March, 2017 and area of Lahaul & Spiti probably will be opened for tourism.
"Further we direct the State to also file an affidavit as to the site selection in the entire districts of Mandi, Kullu, Manali and Lahaul & Spiti in relation to Sewage Treatment Plants and Solid Waste Management Plant," the NGT said.
The direction came after Himachal Additional Advocate General Suryanarayan Singh told the bench that Lahaul-Spiti valley was likely to be opened for tourism next year as the tunnel was almost complete.
The NGT also directed the state government to file an
affidavit apprising it of the progress in the construction of a ropeway in Manali and asked the project proponent to be present before it on the next date of hearing.
Earlier, the tribunal had prohibited activities like paragliding and snow scooters close to and at the Rohtang Pass saying the "extremely eco-sensitive area" cannot be subjected to further degradation.
However, it had observed that people involved in providing local dresses for photography purposes would be permitted to carry on their activity at Rohtang, Solang, Gulaba and Marhi and those permitted to carry on such activities would be given licenses by concerned authorities.
The tribunal had asked the state government to submit a comprehensive report on various aspects including the ropeway, operationalisation of CNG and electric buses, status with regard to afforestation and establishment of eco-friendly market at Marhi.