New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal Friday granted partial relief to taxi and luxury coach operators plying in the Manali-Rohtang Pass areas of Himachal Pradesh by staying environment compensation tax on the vehicles, but refused to relax the 1,000 vehicle limit to the scenic pass.
"As per May 5 order of tribunal, the clause (f) Each of vehicle which is permitted to Rohtang Pass for tourism purpose shall pay environmental compensation at the rate of Rs 1000 for Petrol vehicle and Rs 2500 for Diesel vehicle and clause (g) Each vehicle which carries more than six passengers would be liable to pay compensation of Rs 5000, as environmental compensation is stayed till next date of hearing," a bench headed by judicial member U D Salvi said.
It posted the matter for further hearing on June 8.
The bench, however, refused to relax the limit of 1000 vehicles to 2000 per day to the 13,050 feet pass as demanded by the taxi and luxury coach operators saying it does not find any substance in their contention.
During the hearing, Additional Advocate General Surya Narayan Singh who submitted the state's reply said lot of tourists were pouring in to Manali and at least for this season, the limit of 1000 vehicles should be relaxed to 2000 vehicles.
The bench, however, made it clear that if necessary, it will give only interim relief at this stage till the disposal of the main petition and asked the petitioners' counsel how many members were there in taxi operators' union and the luxury coach operators association.
Senior advocate Vibha Dutt Makhija, appearing for taxi and luxury coach operators, said while the taxi union had 1621 members, the luxury coach operators association had 190 members, mostly having diesel vehicles.
"Grave injustice will be done to these tourist vehicle operators if the limits are not relaxed to 2000 vehicles at this stage as it is their only way to earn livelihood," she said.
The senior advocate contended that vehicular traffic on Rohtang Pass was only four months and even if pollution level is kept at higher end, the vehicular emission was far less than the cities in plain land.
She submitted that all vehicles are subjected to pollution checks before being allowed to enter the Rohtang area and three taxes, including green tax, are already imposed in compliance with the High Court order.
Makhija said "We can't be presumed to be pollutors if we
have passed the pollution checks successfully and no two taxes can be imposed for the same purpose under different names. Hence, the environment compensation tax condition should be stayed or should be kept in abeyance as of now".
The bench then observed that the black carbon film on the glaciers cannot be disputed which is resulting in their melting and agreed to the submissions that vehicular emissions are not the only reason for this.
"Black carbon menace can't be disputed and it is mostly due to the anthropogenic reasons but pollution of air quality is due to local conditions," it said.
The NGT had yesterday asked the state government to file its reply and refrained from providing any immediate relief on a plea seeking reconsideration of its direction to limit the entry of diesel and petrol tourist vehicles to the 13,050 feet Rohtang Pass till August 14 to 1,000 per day.
The state government had submitted that though it was complying with the NGT's directions but a serious law and order problem has arisen out of the order of green panel.
The 13,050 feet Rohtang pass links the Kullu Valley to the remote district of Lahaul and Spiti. It is situated on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas around 51 km from Manali.
On May 26, the Supreme Court had declined to stay the directions and had asked the affected parties to address their grievances before the green tribunal.
The apex court had only stayed one direction of the green panel that all vehicles would be subjected to pollution checks and should get certificates at the check post to comply with BS-IV standards before being allowed to operate in the scenic Rohtang Pass area.
The NGT in its May 5 order had restricted the number of vehicles passing through Rohtang Pass for tourism purposes to 600 petrol and 400 diesel per day on first-come, first-serve basis and directed that each vehicle allowed would pay an environmental cess, which should be kept under a separate head by the state government and utilised only for the purpose of restoring ecology and environment.