Manali: Thousands of tourists who arrived in this picturesque tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh to enjoy the snow in the surrounding hilltops were inconvenienced as taxi operators went on indefinite strike on Tuesday.
All the taxis remained off the roads to protest against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) restricting the entry of chartered vehicles to the nearby Rohtang Pass tourist destination and imposition of a heavy cess.
P.C. Thakur, president of the prominent Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, which called the indefinite strike, told IANS the NGT decision would severely hit the livelihood of over 1,500 taxi drivers and those associated with the hospitality business.
The NGT has allowed restricted movement of 1,000 vehicles, comprising 600 petrol-driven, for three months across the Rohtang Pass.
Each vehicle allowed to the Rohtang Pass for tourism purposes would pay an environmental cess at the rate of Rs.1,000 for petrol vehicles per visit. For diesel vehicles, the cess is Rs.2,500.
Listing the matter for next hearing on May 25, the NGT, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, said the ban on the tourist vehicles would be kept in abeyance till August 14.
Auto operators and private bus operators of Manali also joined the protest.
The taxi operators union is demanding to review of the NGT decision as restricted entry of the vehicles would hit the livelihood of taxi drivers.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on May 15 said the state government would urge the NGT to reconsider the ban.
"It's in my knowledge that many transporters and vendors are facing problem due to the NGT decision and we will strongly take up the matter with it to reconsider its decision for the sake of livelihood of thousands," he said.
At the same time, he added: "We need to protect the rights of the people as well as protect the serene environment of the region."
The picturesque Rohtang Pass, 52 km from Manali, is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Excessive emission of carbon monoxide from the vehicles and huge quantities of trash left behind by tourists on the Rohtang Pass are taking a heavy toll on the snow cover, says the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a Nagpur based institute that has carried out studies on the impact of pollution on the local ecology.
It's report said the Rohtang Pass, located in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, was visited by 18,000 to 20,000 tourists every day, mainly between May and September.