Manali: Tackling trash in the cold, rugged, and rocky mountains of the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas is becoming an uphill task. The area is the origin of one of north India's major rivers, the Beas and its tributaries.
Mounds of plastic snacks packets, plastic pet bottles and beer cans are threatening the highly fragile ecology of the Rohtang Pass, as local authorities disregard ecological concerns.
The entire area of the pass which is a popular tourist spot is at an altitude of 13,050 feet and almost 52 kilometres from Manali, Himachal Pradesh. The pass is almost bereft of human habitation.
It remains cut off from the rest of the country for more than five months every year owing to heavy snowfall.
"It is really shocking to see these plastic bottles and wrappers of eatables lying along these rivulets,” remarked 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 while referring to waste dumped haphazardly along the banks of the glacial-fed Beas river near Marhi, en-route Rohtang Pass.
His friend Dilawar Khan wanted to know why the government is not keeping the Himalayas free from litter. "It seems that the Rohtang hills are fast becoming the world's highest garbage dump as one sees discarded clothes, food packets, heaps of beer cans, and plastic bottles dumped here and there," Khan said.
The picturesque Rohtang Pass is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists. According to the state's tourism department, tourist spots in and around Manali have an influx of around 1.1 million visitors annually. Tourism is the key 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," said Lal Chand Thakur, a shopkeeper selling eatables at Marhi.
Additionally, he added that with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) restricting the entry of tourist vehicles to Rohtang Pass, the influx of tourists has massively reduced.
Only 1,200 taxis or private vehicle permits — 800 petrol and the remaining diesel vehicles — are daily issued online for the trip to Rohtang Pass.
On similar lines, Thakur said, the NGT should also impose tougher penalties on litterbugs beyond Gulaba, which is on the way to the Rohtang Pass.
Another shopkeeper, Ghanshyam Negi, said the installation of portable toilets at Marhi is not a solution unless there are sewage treatment plants along with waste treatment facilities, which currently do not exist in the area.
The local administration has installed waste disposal and drop off points between Marhi and Rohtang Pass, but visitors ignore them.
The NGT, in one of its orders, observed that providing public amenities and ensuring absolute cleanliness at Rohtang Pass and even en-route is essential in the interest of the environment.
"To provide a clean and decent environment, every authority concerned must ensure absolute cleanliness, and the tourists have to cultivate the habit of neither littering nor spoiling the beauty and environment of the glacier by throwing plastic and other waste," it said.
NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, ahead of his retirement last year, said that scientific studies clearly indicated that glaciers in the Rohtang Pass catchment were receding at a rate of one metre per year.
"Everyone going for a picnic carries aerated drinks, popcorn, and beer bottles with them, and then dumps these haphazardly at the pass. There are plastic trash and human waste. Mule dung is polluting water and soil. This is the case before us," he said at the time.
A journal of the Asiatic Society says Lieutenants A Broome and A Cunningham trekked to the Rohtang Pass on 7 July 1839, to trace the sources of Punjab's rivers.
Environmentalists say the state should launch a campaign like the Riverfront Cleaning Campaign that was launched on 18 May, again.
The campaign is supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change. It involved school students and a Territorial Army battalion and is covering three districts -- Mandi, Kullu and Bilaspur from where the Beas river flows.
The Riverfront Cleaning Campaign will conclude on World Environment Day that falls on 5 June.
India is this year’s host to the United Nations Environment-led global event, ‘World Environment Day’ and the 2018 theme is ‘Beat the Plastic Pollution.
Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 07:58 AM