An important judgement was passed by the National Green Tribunal Principal Bench in New Delhi on 22nd December 2021 for maintaining the ecology in the area of Manali and Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh. The fact that Himachal Pradesh is one of the famous tourist destinations in India has been evident over the years. At the same time, the importance of maintaining an ecological balance of hill stations needs to be kept in mind by the Government of India and the State Government. The Government should not turn a blind eye towards ecological and environmental changes brought about by the increasing traffic and ensure continuous efforts towards maintaining the ecological balance.
Facts & Issue:
A letter was sent to the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh (HP) in 2010, highlighting the issue of vehicular emission disturbing the ecological balance in the area of Manali and Rohtang Pass. The grievance was that 4000-5000 vehicles were making round trips from Manali to Rohtang Pass resulting in huge pollution and damage to the environment. On 29th October 2010, a Division Bench of Himachal Pradesh High Court directed the Chief Secretary, H.P. to come up with an appropriate proposal in the matter to control the vehicular movement.
Holding & Reasoning:
During the pendency of the matter in the HC of Himachal Pradesh, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur was asked to make recommendations about the carrying capacity of the area. The area was divided into five segments and according to the recommendations of NEERI, regulations were issued to restrict constructions and to control the movement of traffic, and at the same time, alternate modes of transport such as ropeways were suggested. After the matter remained pending in the H.P. High Court for three years, it was then transferred to the National Green Tribunal on 15.07.2013 for further consideration.
The matter was then considered on 10.10.2019 in the light of earlier proceedings and the status report filed on 05.10.2019 by the Additional Chief Secretary, H.P. The observations made in the status report included that the ropeway from Palchan to Rohtang Pass had received stage I clearance whereas stage II clearance was held up as the area was within 10 km. area of the wildlife sanctuary. Other signs of progress reported included parking facilities, STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) at Marhi and Manali, operation of electric buses, etc. The list of directions was issued that included taking steps for stage II clearance within one month, completion of STPs at Marhi and Manali, completing waste to energy plant, completion of parking and eco-friendly market at Gulaba, furnishing of status report quarterly.
The matter was next considered on 30.07.2020 in light of the quarterly status report dated 29.06.2020.
The direction was issued for taking further steps and filing an updated status report. The matter was last considered on 08.06.2021 in the light of a report dated 21.01.2021 by various departments. The report was discussed and requests were made to expedite the progress. Another status report was filed on 25.10.2021 wherein the steps taken by different departments were:-
[A] Local Administration /Deputy Commissioner, Kullu:
The stage II approval for the ropeway project was received, the STP at Marhi has been duly completed and tested and made operational, the work of STP at Manali be expedited, the construction of parking facility at Gulaba Barrier has been completed and is made functional, the construction work of EcoFriendly Market at Marhi and allotment process has been completed.
[B] Urban Development Department:
The first section of the Development of Solid Waste Management Facility at Manali was completed but there were challenges being faced in the implementation of the second section.
[C] Forest Department:
The project of Establishment of Nature Park at Gulaba is incomplete due to funds constraints to be received from CAMPA.
[D] Transport Department:
That there were 25 electric buses operating on the Manali- Rohtang route, the Weigh-in-Motion has already been installed and is fully operational.
[E] H.P. State Pollution Control Board:
Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Data of Rohtang was submitted along with the details of Vehicular emission checking done by the RTO Kullu.
The Tribunal after analysing the situation decided that the authorities may continue to monitor the remedial steps for maintaining the ecology in the area of Manali and Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh. A constant vigil will be maintained for the protection of ecology and review meetings will continue to be held at the level of Chief Secretary periodically.