It has directed the officers concerned to bring all records related to the ongoing construction activity near the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft), located 52 km from here, on next date of hearing Dec 2.
A green bench of Justices Sanjay Karol and Rajeev Sharma has restrained the state from new construction, except defence related, near the pass without permission of the court till the state prepares an interim development plan for the area.
The order was passed when state’s town planner A.N. Gautam informed the court that no interim development plan has been prepared by the town and country planning department to regulate constructions at Marhi and Rohtang Pass.
“The glacier of this area feeds our river basins and any damage would be irreparable. It would adversely affect nature and national economy. Hence, some immediate measures are required to be taken,” the bench said.
It observed that unregulated construction activity could adversely affect nature and “might result in landslides and soil erosion”.
Rohtang, meaning “piles of dead bodies” in Persian, is located in the Pir Panjal range.
It remains snowbound for over six months in winter, cutting off the tribal Lahaul and Spiti district and also the strategically vital Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
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 defence vehicles with the forces reaching supplies to strategic points through the pass.
J.C. Kuniyal, senior scientist of the Kullu-based G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, said Rohtang Pass’s eco-system is being damaged by the increasing tourist inflow and exhaust fumes of vehicles.
“Excessive emission of carbon monoxide from vehicles and huge quantities of trash left by tourists on the pass are taking a toll on the snow cover,” said Kuniyal, who has carried various studies on the impact of pollution on the pass.
“Over the years, we have observed that the snow cover in the Rohtang Pass is melting at a faster rate than expected. Earlier, snow remained on the pass till June-end. Now, it almost melts by May-end. This means there is an overall increase in temperature,” he added.
He said at several points the snow is turning black due to soot accumulation. Even the rocks along the highway have turned black or dark grey.
“A large number of flora species are now on the verge of extinction,” he added.