E-pass mandatory to enter the Nilgiris, Kodaikanal between May 7 and June 30: Madras High Court

E-pass mandatory to enter the Nilgiris, Kodaikanal between May 7 and June 30: Madras High Court

ALL motor vehicles seeking to enter the Nilgiris and Kodaikanal between May 7 and June 30 must obtain electronic passes (e-passes) to help the district administrations collect data on the number and types of vehicles entering the two hill stations, the number of tourists visiting them during summer and so on, the Madras High Court has ordered, reports The Hindu.

A special Division Bench of Justices N. Sathish Kumar and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, however, made it clear that there shall be no cap on the issuance of e-passes by the Nilgiris and Dindigul Collectorates, and that residents should be exempted from obtaining them.

The Collectors were also directed to give wide publicity to the e-pass system.

Directing the Collectors to obtain as much information as possible, such as the category of the vehicle, the number of persons travelling in it, whether they are on day travel or intend to stay overnight, etc., the judges said that the suggestions of amici curiae Chevanan Mohan, Rahul Balaji and M. Santhanaraman could also be taken into account before issuing the e-passes.

The judges also said that the two Collectors, with the assistance of the Information Technology Department, could explore the possibility of linking a payment gateway to the e-pass system so that the applicants could pay the toll charges, too, online. This would help avoid the piling-up of vehicles for hours together near the check posts, save fuel and prevent carbon emissions.

Advocate-General P.S. Raman said that the data to be collected would be of immense help to Professor Amar Sapra of the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (IIM-B) and Professor Sachin Gunte of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M), who had been assigned the task of carrying out scientific studies to fix the carrying capacity of the ghat roads.

The idea of an e-pass came from Justice Kumar, who cited a similar system that was enforced across the State during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Then, you did not allow any vehicle to enter the Nilgiris without a valid reason. Now, you need not impose such a restriction but use the system to collect authentic data regarding the tourists visiting the hill stations,” he said.

The judges were shocked to read a status report filed by the State government which said that approximately 20,000 vehicles (11,500 cars, 1,300 vans, 600 buses and 6,500 two-wheelers) enter the Nilgiris every day through the eight check posts at Kallar, Kunjapanai, Nadugani, Kakkanallah, Thalur, Choladi, Geddai and Pattavayal during the summer season.

They wondered how elephants would be able to cross the road with such heavy traffic.

Justice Chakravarthy expressed concern over the severe drought prevailing in the Nilgiris, with even residents struggling for water.

In such circumstances, he wondered how tourists would be able to find water, especially when Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Connoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and Nellivalam could accommodate more than 20,000 tourists at a time.