The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its order dated January 21, 2015 has said that vehicles which are more than 15 years old should stop playing from Manali to Rohtang with the coming tourism season.
The NGT has also ordered to “immediately demolish” all kihokas and dhabas which are “unauthorised” and “illegally being carried on at Solang Nallah”. It insists that the directions contained in a judgement/order passed earlier should be applicable to this location as well. The earlier order was issued last year regarding other places up to Rohtang on similar grounds.
The NGT has also ordered to start a ropeway project from Vashist to Rohtang and ply CNG buses only.
The order asks the Chief Secretary and all other concerned authorities of the state government to immediately take a decision on providing a ropeway from Vashisht to Rohtang Pass. The state government decision is supposed to be backed by the report of the expert/s. “This tribunal primarily feels and is of the opinion that with modern technical know-how, the ropeway can be provided, especially on a public-private partnership mode”, the NGT said.
The NTG order is based on the recommendation of a committee, which talked of the need of a serious effort on the part of the state government to educate people towards maintaining environment with the principle of sustainable development. It wanted a programme on education people on maintaining environment to be implemented at the level of schools, panchayats and even at the official level. It said, the misgivings that it will affect the livelihood of the people should be dispelled by appropriate teachings, adding, sustainable economic development is bound to bring prosperity in the area and would provide employment to the people.
The order has been passed in view of environmental protection, whereas safeguarding livelihoods of thousands of peoples was not taken into consideration. No alternatives for livelihoods and proposals for environment-friendly tourism, protecting the interest of poor workers and locals, were considered while issuing the sweeping order.
Whereas private companies are operating ropeway at Solang, the hydro project and other heavy investment based operations have already been given forest land on lease by the state government, and the NGT has not issued any directions to them.
In compliance to this order the Divisional Forest Officer, Kullu, has issued notice/order to dhaba owners on dated February 11, 2015 to demolish dhabas/ khokhas/ temporary sheds/ tin sheds/ tea stalls etc. on forest land at Manali-III/UPF at Solang Valley before February 19, 2015, failing which the forest department will remove all such structures forcefully with the help of the police and the district administration, and the cost would be recovered from these poor people.
This one-sided order of the NGT and the state authorities seem unjustified and undemocratic. It is protecting the interests of companies and mega-investors. The order is against the poor host community. There had been a proposal to come up with a Ski Village project by Ford some years back in this region, but it could not go through because of strong resistance by the local community. It may happen that there may be such a proposal again. The effort currently is only to lessen the stakes of the people, so that resistance against maga tourism projects may be defused.
Tourism operation in this valley has grown exponentially over the last 30 years. Local villagers living in this remotest snow bound area were poor and illiterate. They mostly got opportunity of livelihood by carrying out tourism related services/ activities such as tea stalls, dhabas, taxi plying, the khokhas which would rent coats, boots, and sell grocery and crafts items, offer pony and yak ride, provide mountain vehicles such as ATV and snow scooters, local dresses for taking photographs, photography, offering other sports like zorbing, trampling, sleigh, paragliding and skiing.
Thousands of local villagers of four village panchayats – Burua, Shanag, Palchan, and Vashisht – are owners of these facilities and are running their livelihoods through these operations for the last 30 years, which also boosted tourism in the Manali valley.
Presently these tourism-related services are in operation at all the beautiful locations from Vashisht to Rohtang, on the roadsides of highways, mostly on forest land, and are being run mostly by local nearby villagers.
Approximate numbers of these facilities are: tea stall 300, dhaba 400, taxi plying 3000, khokhas for renting coats and boots, and selling grocery and craft items 300, pony and yak ride 350, mountain vehicles dirt biking, ATV and snow scooters 300, local dress for taking photographs run by local women 200, zorbing ball 50, trampling 6, sleigh 200, paragliding 200, photography 400 and skiing 500. More than 6,000 local villagers are running their livelihood, and workers, involved from outside of the area, earn their livelihoods here.
The NTG order is detrimental as it seeks to grab the livelihood of thousands of members of the host community. Stopping the operation of more than 15-years-old vehicles will affect private vehicles, public transport and commercial vehicles. Residents of Lahaul and Spiti, Pangi and Leh, who have to pass through this highway to reach at these places, may also be affected by this order.
This order will effectively debar local villagers and the host community from tourism-related operations and livelihoods, which are poor and not in a position to operate mega-investment based tourism activities, hotels and other livelihoods.
Many families operating dhabas live within dhaba, or in a small rooms built along with the same structures. They will become homeless and shelterless. These families are having small kids. Where will they go, as often, as recently, there is two feet snow outside at Solang Nalla?
There is an urgent need to suggest the alternative to this unscientific, illogical and partial environmental understanding. It will lead to social unrest in future. There is a need to save the livelihood of host community.
We are planning a public gathering of all four panchayats and others who will be affected by this order at village Bangh near Manali on Febuary 24, 2015 to discuss this issue and will chalk out future strategy of action.
*National Coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org