Manali Taxi Operators go on Indefinite Strike over Entry restrictions

Manali: Most taxis remained off the roads here for the second day Wednesday to protest the government’s decision to restrict the entry of chartered vehicles to nearby tourist destination Rohtang Pass.

P.C. Thakur, president of Him-Aanchal Taxi Operators Union, which called for the indefinite strike, said the government’s decision to allow only 400 vehicles to cross the pass in a day would severely hit the livelihood of taxi operators and those associated with the hospitality business.

Thousands of tourists who descend on this tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh, have been inconvenienced while trying to visit nearby destinations.

“The decision to restrict entry of the commercial and private vehicles is as per the directive of the National Green Tribunal (NGT),” Sub-Divisional Magistrate Vinay Dhiman told IANS.

He said the NGT took the decision to check unregulated plying of vehicles on Rohtang to protect its fragile ecology from pollution of the vehicles.

The NGT, which listed the case for next hearing May 29, has also ordered imposition of fee on every individual and vehicle crossing the Rohtang Pass.

The taxi operators union is demanding review of the NGT decision as restricted entry of the vehicles would hit the livelihood of over 1,500 taxi drivers.

The tourists have been facing inconvenience as the state has already made it mandatory for the motorists travelling in a vehicle that does not bear a Himachal Pradesh registration number to hire a local taxi beyond Kothi, 13 km from Manali towards Rohtang.

Local legislator Govind Thakur said the government has failed to convince the NGT about the impact of its order on thousands of locals, who depend upon the tourists only for their livelihood.

“The government has failed to convince the courts that permission to allow just 400 vehicles in a day to cross the pass is quite inadequate and it would severely hit the local tourism and hospitality industry,” he said.

Thakur said 400 vehicles means around 1,000 people could cross the pass. The remaining vehicles would not be allowed to go beyond Kothi.

Last year in June, the taxi operators went on a day-long strike after the Himachal Pradesh High Court restricted the plying of the chartered vehicles that were over four years old to Rohtang.

At present, the eco-system of the pass, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, is being damaged by the increasing tourist inflow and exhaust fumes of vehicles.

The picturesque Rohtang Pass, 52 km from Manali, is a major attraction for both domestic and foreign tourists.

Officials say over 2,000 vehicles go over the pass every day during peak tourist season from June till November.

A major component of the traffic is also defence vehicles, with the forces transporting supplies to strategic points through the pass during the summer break.