Tunnel may be blessing for Rohtang eco-system

August 2nd, 2010 - 12:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi By Vishal Gulati
Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 2 (IANS) The fragile ecosystem of the Rohtang Pass is likely to get some respite from heavy pollution from vehicles once the 8.8-km-long tunnel being built under it takes on the traffic burden.

The multicrore-rupee Rohtang tunnel project began June 28 this year with United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi laying its foundation stone. It is likely to be completed by 2015. It will reduce the road distance between Manali and Leh by approximately 48 km and save about four hours of travel time.

“The construction of the (Rohtang) tunnel would greatly help in protecting the fragile ecosystem of the Rohtang Pass,” K.C. Kuniyal, senior scientist of the Kullu-based G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, told IANS.

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

Excessive emission of the carbon monoxide from the vehicles and huge quantities of trash left behind by tourists on the pass are taking a heavy toll on the snow cover, said Kuniyal, who has carried out a number of studies on the impact of pollution on the Rohtang Pass.

Officials say more than 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 reaching supplies to strategic points through 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,” said Kuniyal.

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 that were common on the pass are now on the verge of extinction. This would ultimately threaten the existence of fauna species too,” he added.

According to Kuniyal, once the tunnel is constructed beneath the pass, the government should either regulate the traffic on the pass or temporarily close it for motorists.

“There is a need for taking steps to check the rapid melting of snow as it increases the volume of water in rivers at a particular time rather than ensuring regular supply of water through the year,” the scientist said.

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

Over 100,000 tourists, mainly from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat, have been to the pass since its reopening in June this year.

For more than six months, the pass remains cut off from the rest of the country due to heavy snowfall.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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