With two large new cement plants ready for starting operations by March, heavy traffic on the crowded Manali highway in the Indian Himalayas, is expected to double that has much of the tourism operators worried about the future of tourism in Kullu-Manali valley.
Officials of industry department disclosed that two new cement plants would increase the annual cement production in the state from 4.5Mta to 8.5Mta. “What is worrying is the carrying capacity of road,” he confessed.
Both the plants, one as part of expansion by one large existing cement unit and the other by an new entrant, are said to be of 2Mt capacity each but the officials say that normally the productivity in these plants exceeds installed capacity by 15 to 30 per cent.
Raj Kishan Mahant, who operates a hotel in Manali said, “Such large heavy vehicle movement on the highway will turn the road into a death trap that could permanently damage the scenic value of Kullu valley.”
Traffic on the highway to Manali is already in chaos, with just two large cement plants operating at Dharlaghat and Barmana in Satluj and Beas valley. What will happen to tourism, when the new Baga Balagh and the other plant in Dharlaghat begin production one can only gauge, says Mahant.
Guman Singh of Himalayan Abhiyan Nithi, an NGO adds, “Not just these plants, there are two more cement unit proposed at Alsindi and Sundernagar.”
Industry minister Kishan Kapoor holds that development does have a cost. “We are stressing upon the cement companies to develop an alternate road for transporting cement and its by-products.” He also said that the central government was discriminating against Himachal in expanding the rail network. “Cement will be manufactured where limestone mines are located but despite the dire need the state has been expressing to develop a rail line for transporting it from the Beas and Satluj valley, the railway ministry does not pay any heed to such demands,” said Kapoor.