Plastic Waste Threatens Picturesque And Ecologically Fragile Rohtang Pass

The influx of almost 1 million tourists annually is putting pressure on the ecologically sensitive Rohtang.

Plastic Waste Threatens Picturesque And Ecologically Fragile Rohtang Pass

Residents feel a permanent system of waste management is needed to protect Rohtang. (File)

Manali:  The ecologically fragile Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh, which is a two-hour drive away from the popular tourist destination, Manali, is being choked with plastic, bottles, beer cans. Local authorities are concerned. 

Tourists only travel up to the altitude of 13,050 feet, 52 km from Manali. Rest of the Rohtang Pass has no sign of human habitation. Due to heavy snowfall, it remains cut off for more than five months. 

The litter is appalling to the tourists. "It is really shocking to see pet bottles and eatable wrappers lying along rivulets," said Raunaq Bajwa, a tourist from New Delhi.

"Why is the local administration not imposing a blanket ban on carrying these non-biodegradable items to such highly sensitive zones," he asked, pointing to waste dumped haphazardly along the banks of the glacier-fed Beas near Marhi. His friend added that Rohtang was slowly becoming a high-altitude dumping ground. 

The picturesque Rohtang Pass is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.

According to the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department, 1.1 million people visit Manali every year. Tourism is the major source of income for the locals. 

"Cleaning up the hills once in a year is not the solution. The local administration has to find a permanent way of waste management," Lal Chand Thakur, a shopkeeper said.

The NGT has, however adopted one measure to protect the pristine Rohtang, restricting the entry of tourist vehicles to the Pass. It has led to a decrease in the number of tourists. 

Only 1,200 taxis or private vehicle permits - 800 petrol and the remaining diesel vehicles - are issued on an everyday basis, for trips to the Rohtang Pass. People feel there must be similar checks on littering. 

There are no sewage treatment plants in Marhi, a town situated between Manali and Rohtang. Residents feel that the installation of portable toilets will not help. Waste disposal points have been installed, but the visitors tend to ignore them. 

In one of its orders, the green court observed that providing public amenities and ensuring absolute cleanliness at Rohtang Pass and the route leading up to it is essential to environmental conservation. 

Authorities must ensure absolute cleanliness and the tourists have to refrain from littering, the order had said. 

Ahead of his retirement, green court Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar told IANS last year that scientific studies clearly indicated glaciers in the Rohtang Pass catchment were receding at the rate of one metre per year.

"People going for picnics carry cold drinks, snacks and beer bottles with them and then dump them carelessly. Plastic trash adds to bio-waste. Mule dung is polluting water and soil. This is the case before us," he had said.

Environmentalists say the state should also launch a campaign like the Riverfront Cleaning Campaign that was launched on May 18.

The campaign, supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change and involving school students and a Territorial Army battalion, will cover three districts -- Mandi, Kullu and Bilaspur, through which the Beas flows. It will conclude today, on the occasion World Environment Day. 

This year, India will also host the UN Environment-led global event themed “Beat  The Plastic Pollution”.

(With Inputs from IANS)

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