I was aghast to see a photograph in the Tribune about two weeks back of a long traffic jam in Khajjiar in Chamba – the line of vehicles in this exquisite dale was at least a kilometer long! The SDM Dalhousie further informed the reporter that during the season about 5000 vehicles go to Khajjiar every day. Two days later it was reported that 1000 tourists go to Triund (above Mcleodganj) every day. What are we doing to our few remaining natural features ?
Rohtang pass has become a by-word for pollution and the NGT has not helped its cause by allowing 1400 vehicles there everyday. Now that the state govt. has introduced electric buses for the pass, NO OTHER VEHICLES should be allowed (except for genuine travellers to Leh, Kaza and other places beyond the pass). The NGT should not succumb to pressures from the unholy nexus of hoteliers and taxi unions- their livelihoods (based on extortion of tourists, mostly) are not more important than the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations. No new taxi permits should be issued for Manali sub-division – it already has more than the area can support. Nor should permits for new hotels be sanctioned: Manali already has more hotel beds than Delhi ! And whatever happened to the rope-way from Palchan to Rohtang- the tenders were first floated way back in 2010 and it should have been up and running in three years. The NGT’s local Commissioner in Manali, Mr. RakeshwarLal Sood, should monitor its progress with greater urgency, for ultimately this is what will save the Rohtang from the internal combustion engine and the external combustion lobbies.
Coming back to Khajjiar, I’ve been there more times than I can remember and never sighted more than a couple of vehicles there. Even though the lake itself must have disappeared by now (every govt. department has tried to arrest its siltation, and with each such intervention it has become smaller!) the glade or vale or meadow is a thing of beauty, unsurpassed even in this state blessed by nature and cursed with commerce. The very idea of 5000 vehicles and 20000 chhola bhatura type of tourists running amok there is a blasphemy. The question, therefore, is: what is the govt. or the district administration doing about controlling this polluting flood ? Obviously, nothing, or we wouldn’t have so many vehicles there in the first place. Why should we always be passive, indifferent and safe, waiting for the NGT or the High Court to do something to stem the rot rather than take the initiative ourselves ? Why do we get fat 7th Pay Commission salaries ? Why are we always silent in the face of pressures from politicians, taxi drivers, bus operators, hoteliers and tourists who have destroyed their own cities and are now hell bent on ravaging what is rightfully our heritage? Cannot the state Forest department, which has more PCCFs, Addl. PCCFs and CCFs than we have wild life in our forests, be more proactive and visionary in protecting places like Khajjiar and Triund ?
To my mind, the first thing to be done is to assess the carrying capacity of these places and restrict the number of visitors to that number. Secondly, impose a COMPLETE BAN on private or commercial vehicles going to Khajjiar. Instead acquire a few electric buses for the purpose as is being done for Rohtang. Third, erect barriers and do not allow any form of plastic to be taken to either of these places, not even PET bottles. Four, impose a heavy user fee for the visit ; if these urbanites can pay five hundred rupees at a multiplex to see the curves of Rakhi Sawant they should not mind paying a similar amount to view the undulations of our mountains and valleys – which, incidentally, are completely natural. Such restrictions are even more necessary for Triund which at 9000 feet is close to the snow line and has no water- garbage and human waste are the biggest threats to its pristine grandeur. I’ve been there at least thrice (which I remember) and can state with all confidence that it cannot support more than 50 visitors a day. No night stay should be permitted there, in order to avoid generation of more human waste. There were no structures there a few years ago, except a Forest Rest House and a much needed tea stall a kilometer below it, but I now read that a number of dhabas etc. have come up there now. This is nothing but sheer laxity, negligence if not collusion of the forest and revenue officials, for all land there is forest land. They should be demolished immediately lest it become another Marhi. There was also a proposal to build a ropeway from Mcleodganj/Dharamshala to Triund, primarily to kill another daft idea: build a road to Triund! The technical and financial feasibility reports were ready eight years ago, so why this delay?
Unplanned mass tourism and excessive “development” are ravaging Himachal’s natural environment and assets. Mr. Virbhadra Singh’s roads and Mr. Dhumal’s hydel projects have already devastated most of the natural beauty of the state; let us at least make an honest effort to save the few blessed places that remain. There has to be a vision beyond money, votes and the Apex scale.