New Delhi: Himachal Pradesh on Monday favoured an increase in the number of tourist vehicles going to Rohtang Pass from Manali, while the Him Aanchal Taxi Operators Union told the Supreme Court that limiting the number of vehicles to 1,200 per day was arbitrary and without any basis.
As a vacation bench of Justice Prafulla C Pant and Justice DY Chandrachud was told this, the bench said: "Somewhere a deadline had to be drawn" and permitting 6,000 vehicles as being canvassed by the taxi operators union would make it "unworkable".
The top court is hearing a number of petitions including by the Him Aanchal Taxi Operators Union challenging an order by the National Green Tribunal restricting the number of vehicles going from Manali to Rohtang Pass to 1,000 only. However, it was later modified by the apex court and increased to 1,200.
While asking all the parties to respond to the affidavit filed by the central government, the court issued notice on a number of petitions including one filed by the local residents of Manali contending that the NGT order was adversely affecting their livelihood.
The central government on Monday reiterated its earlier position that it was ready to supply CNG at Manali for the vehicles going to Rohtang Pass provided the Himachal Pradesh government came forward with a sustainable business proposition which was confined not just to six months tourist season starting with May and ending in October.
Appearing for the taxi operators union, senior counsel Vibha Dutta Makhija told the court that it was erroneous to blame the local taxi operators plying between Manali and Rohtang Pass during six months' time for deterioration in the ecology in the area.
She said that it had to be viewed in the totality of situation including contribution of vehicular traffic in Delhi and other parts of the country to the alarming level of air pollution and its impact on the hill state.
Urging the court to strike a balance between the number of vehicles going to Rohtang Pass from Manali every day and the concern for protecting the ecology, Makhija said that the number of tourists' taxis plying between Manali and Rohtang Pass should be increased to at least 3,000.
As court adjourned the matter for two weeks, the taxi operators told the court that in the absence of CNG, could there be a complete or partial ban on the diesel vehicles going to Rohtang Pass.
Returning the allegation of court being arbitrary in fixing the limit of 1,200 vehicles, the bench said: "You can't arbitrarily say that this number of vehicles is good (3,000 as suggested by the taxi operators union). There must be some data from the state government (to fix the number of vehicles going to Rohtang Pass)."
Faced with the situation where the bench was not inclined to disturb the earlier order, the Himachal Pradesh counsel said: "In the interregnum there has to be something. The tourists are continuing to pour in every day."
Appearing for some local residents of Manali, senior counsel Manan Mishra, assailing the NGT order, said that without any scientific study, without any expert opinion, the green tribunal has ruled that no eatables could be carried by the tourists and have banned horse riding and other activities.
He said that it had affected the livelihood of the people in the area who are entirely dependent on tourism-centric business.