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Madras High Court Orders Entry Of Vehicles to 2 Prominent Hill Station, Ooty and Kodaikanal, Through E-Passes

Madras High Court Orders Entry Of Vehicles to 2 Prominent Hill Station, Ooty and Kodaikanal, Through E-Passes

The Madras High Court has made e-passes mandatory for travelers heading to Tamil Nadu’s popular hill stations, Ooty and Kodaikanal, from May 7 to June 30. However, there is no cap on the issuance of e-passes, a special division Bench of N Sathish Kumar and D Bharatha Chakravarthy said. The e-pass system does not apply to local vehicles. The court also directed to collect data on vehicular traffic and study the carrying capacity of the ghat roads leading to these destinations.

Traffic Management and Environmental Concerns

The court’s verdict emphasized the need to manage vehicular traffic effectively, especially during peak tourist seasons. The status report submitted by the government revealed alarming statistics, with over 20,000 vehicles entering the Nilgiris daily, including cars, vans, buses, and two-wheelers. This heavy traffic not only disrupts the movement of local residents but also poses a significant threat to the region’s biodiversity, including wildlife corridors and forest ecosystems.

The roads were carrying beyond their capacity. It can also be seen that all these routes were “meddling/interfering with the elephant corridors.” And in view of traffic jams, vehicles are stranded in the roads cutting across forests and the animals are worst affected. It causes irreparable damage to the environment, the bench noted.

Protecting the Nilgiris Biosphere and Western Ghats

The court’s order highlighted the importance of preserving the Nilgiris biosphere and protecting the Western Ghats, considering their ecological significance. Justices D Satish Kumar and D Bharatha Chakravarthy underscored the crucial role of biodiversity in sustaining life on Earth and stressed the need to address the environmental impact of excessive vehicular traffic in the region.

Challenges Faced by Local Residents and Tourists in Ooty and Kodaikanal

The court noted that the overwhelming traffic not only hampers the livelihoods and mobility of local residents but also diminishes the tourism experience for visitors. Traffic jams, overcrowded roads, and disruptions to wildlife corridors due to vehicles stranding in forest areas were identified as key challenges that need urgent attention.

E-Passes Implementation and Study Initiatives 

Drawing from the system introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, where e-passes were required for inter-district travel, the court mandated the use of e-passes for vehicles heading to Ooty and Kodaikanal. However, the court directed the government to allow all vehicles without restrictions while the study on carrying capacity is being conducted.

Pilot test from 7th May 2024 to 30th June 2024

The possession of such e-passes can be properly checked at the entry points without fail. Such a system can be developed and implemented with effect from 7th May 2024 and shall be in vogue on a pilot/test basis up to 30th June 2024, the bench added.

New system to be widely advertised

There should be adequate publicity about the new system on the website/mobile app which was going to be developed. Advertisements can be issued nation-wide and more specifically in the regional newspapers of the neighboring states – Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, said the division bench comprising Justices N Sathish Kumar and D Bharatha Chakravarthy.

Collaborative Study for Sustainable Solutions

To address the traffic management and environmental concerns effectively, the state government has engaged the expertise of institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, and Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, to conduct a comprehensive study. This study aims to determine the sustainable carrying capacity of Ooty and Kodaikanal, considering factors such as vehicular traffic, environmental impact, and wildlife conservation.

Balancing Tourism and Environmental Conservation

The court’s directive reflects a balanced approach, acknowledging the importance of tourism for the region’s economy while prioritizing environmental conservation and sustainable development. The implementation of e-passes and the collaborative study initiative signify proactive steps towards finding long-term solutions for traffic management and preserving the natural heritage of Tamil Nadu’s hill stations.

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