Environmental Crisis in Lahaul, as tourist footfall leads to Garbage and Plastic waste overflow
Vishal Sarin
Manali, June 6, 2023

As after celebrating the World Environment Day with a lot of pomp and show, everyone has gone back to ‘business as usual” the picturesque tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti faces a worsening environmental crisis due to increased influx of tourists. After the inauguration of the Atal Tunnel in 2021 the region, known for its pristine beauty and connection to the great Himalayan ranges, now struggles with excessive garbage and plastic waste, even threatening its natural water sources.

Water body next to the eateries

Not only, single use plastic which has been banned in HP, is being openly used in this area and is also a part of spreading litter.
According to local authorities, on June 4 alone, a staggering 10,677 vehicles traversed through the Rohtang tunnel. This level of visitors influx is leading to an alarming rise in waste generation. The issue becomes immediately evident as one crosses the tunnel, with heaps of garbage and plastic littering the surroundings. Eateries run by locals near the tunnel’s north end and other places have contributed significantly to this problem, as waste overflows from inadequate dustbins and contaminates nearby water sources.
The irregular garbage collection exacerbates the situation, with collection trucks visiting only once every 15-20 days. Shop owners and residents express concern over the lack of a fixed routine for waste management, especially during the peak tourist season when piles of garbage accumulate daily. The Koksar panchayat, responsible for the area, when contacted informed us that it is facing administrative hurdles in setting up a garbage disposal machine due to space allocation issues and the absence of necessary notifications.
Local village Pradhan Sachin highlights the contrasting approaches of the government and the local administration. While the pollution board issues notices to address the waste problem, authorities deny permission and fail to provide space for the installation of garbage disposal machines. He emphasizes that Lahaul is perhaps, the only area in Himachal Pradesh without a proper waste management system, further noting that the responsibility is often shifted onto the villagers while cooperation and support remain elusive.
Although a garbage disposal plant is under construction at Tandi, it is being handled by the local panchayat, forcing the villagers to make their own arrangements for waste disposal. The lack of support from both the government and the local administration exacerbates the issue, leaving the residents of Lahaul and Spiti District to bear the brunt of the environmental crisis.
Here it is pertinent to mention that the waste disposal problem is a well known to the authorities. In a press release issued a couple of months before,  the Apoorv Devgan (IAS) former, Member Secretary, Himachal Pradesh State Pollution Control Board had stated that during their field inspection it was found that the practice of throwing litter into the Chandra and Bhaga rivers  are rampant.

Also read: Littering near the Atal Tunnel: HC issues notice to State government, BRO and others

The Chanda and Bhagha are galacial rivulet which flow on the bank of North portal of Rohtang tunnel mainly in Lahaul-Spiti district. The two snow rivulets converge into Chander-Bagha near Tandi in Lahaul Subdivision which becomes the main tributory of Chenab.
Devgun had then, informed that pollution was not only causing challenes to scenic beauty of Manali-RAT(Rohtang Attal Tunnel)-Keylong on the side of NH-3 but with beginning of summer tourist season, the Khoksar and Sissu areas were witnessing heavy influx of tourists, consequently more commercial establishments and increasing floating population since the opening of Atal Tunnel on the Manali-Leh highway. There is a huge spurt in waste generation, which require scientific disposal, had warned the former Pollution board member secratery.

Confirming our information, the pollution board media communique had also highlighted that one vehicle of SADA  transports the garbage from Lahaul valley to the Manali waste treatment plant located at Rangri. Moreover there were complaints that the practice of throwing litter into the Chandra and Bhaga rivers is rampant.

A team lead by Member Secretary, SDM Keylong, Regional Officer of Regional Office SPCB Kullu, Pradhan of Khoksar Panchayat, Up-Praddhan of Sissu Panchayat had conducted field inspections of MRF (Material Recovery Facility) waste management site at Khoksar of Lahul Block.
Infact the Himachal Pradesh High court also had taken cognizance in the matter of littering of Atal Tunnel Rohtang in March, as direction were issued to Deputy Commissioner and SP Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti to ensure Management of cleanliness and garbage disposal around the ATR.
However here we are, still clueless about a solution. Noteworthy to mention that there seems a lot of noise about increasing concern of people towards the cause of Environment on the gracious occasion of World Environment Day on June 5, 2023. However when we analyse if it is making any difference by celebrating and taking pledge to not litter our sorrounding, the very idea of the movement seems to be notional one.
As Lahaul and Spiti District grapples with the escalating garbage and plastic waste problem, urgent intervention is required to prevent further degradation of the natural environment. The situation calls for immediate attention, to tackle this crisis and ensure the preservation of this ecologically sensitive region.



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