Rock rap: companies, HP face the music

In a landmark judgement on environmental advocacy, the Supreme Court (SC) has set up a corpus fund and imposed a fine of Rs 4 crore on companies, including Coke and Pepsi, for defacing rocks along the Rohtang-Manali road in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Included in this fund is a Rs 1 crore fine slapped on the HP government for allowing companies to paint advertisements on the ecofragile rocks.

The apex court has also directed the Union ministry of environment and forests to file an affidavit to gauge the extent of such commercial vandalism in other states. "The message must go to all states that they had a responsibility to protect the environment and forests and they must be made accountable if there is any dereliction of duty,' noted the bench. The court noted that among the advertisements painted on the rocks, MBDbooks have 78, Coca-Cola 44, Pepsi eight and Birla White 10. Earlier, the SC had imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on Coke and Pepsi, and Rs 1 lakh on 10 other companies for "unauthorisedly' repairing the damage they had caused to the fossil rocks in the region.

After the SC had issued notices to the companies questioning their move, the offenders embarked on a cleanup operation. They used hammers, chisels, acid, grinders and paints to remove the advertisements, which further defaced the rocks. Scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute , say that the harm done to the rocks can only be gauged from solvents used in the paints. But removing the paints with thinners could further damage the rocks. In fact, experts opine that the best option is not to remove the ads, but to let them decompose naturally.

"Perhaps entrepreneurs do not realise how this relentless ad campaign is causing irreparable damage to the mountains,' says B S Malhans of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The cola brands, however, say that their franchisees are responsible for the advertisements and that they are not the only offenders.
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With inputs from Baldev S Chauhan in Shimla