Manali taxi operators call off strike after NGT relief

Manali: The Manali taxi operators union after 11 days of strike, yesterday called it off on being given a temporary reprieve by National Green Tribunal (NGT). In its order NGT deferred  the stiff environmental compensation fee imposed till 8th June, when the case comes up for hearing again.

Its prudent to mention that the taxi operators got no relief from the Supreme Court where they had appealed against the NGT order. The operators have again knocked on the doors of National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking a review of the earlier order for relaxing the number of vehicles permitted to ply on the Manali-Rohtang Pass road per day. For environmental concerns and to contain overcrowding NGT had restricted the number of vehicles to 1000 per day.

Coming during the height of the tourist season, the indefinite strike has hit the region’s tourism and hospitality industries hard besides affecting the livelihood of hundreds. The strike by about 2,500 taxi drivers joined by three wheelers and goods carrier associations persisted for 11 days. The state government, which blamed the tribunal for huge revenue losses caused by the move, is also hoping the latter would reverse or at least ease the restrictions.

Meanwhile, buses of the state-run Himachal Road Transport Corp were plying on the 52 km stretch from Manali to Rohtang by paying the environmental fee. On May 5 the tribunal’s principal bench permitted only 1,000 vehicles including 400 diesel operated ones to ply on the stretch every day after paying the fee of Rs. 2,500 for diesel and Rs.1,000 for petrol vehicles. The tribunal also fixed a Rs. 5000 fee for vehicles with more than seven seats.

In its earlier directives the tribunal had asked the state government to set up an air ambience monitoring system in Manali and check posts to regulate traffic flow at Rohtang. It also directed the state government to construct a ropeway from Vashishta to Rohtang.

A government official said tourist arrivals in Manali had slumped by about 40% during the last few days. Anup thakur, President Manali hotelier association, said: “In winter heavy snowfall played havoc during the peak tourist season and now in summer National Green Tribunal’s restrictions have dealt a crippling blow.”

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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