Time for govt to act, say experts after Uttarakhand HC bans adventure sports
The HC’s order, which directed state government to enact suitable legislation for regulating adventure and water sports throughout Uttarakhand, came as a jolt to the industry in the Himalayan state.
Environmentalists and industry experts said on Friday there is a need to strike a balance between conservation and tourism after the Uttarakhand high court banned adventures sports in the state and asked the government regulate the industry.
The high court directed the state government to enact suitable legislation for regulating adventure and water sports throughout Uttarakhand within two weeks.
Before the high court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned beach camping in Rishikesh in 2005 but the order was revoked in 2017. However, the forest department is yet to allow beach camping sites.
Adventure sports companies have mushroomed in the state, a popular destination for tourists from around the country, offering everything from white water rafting to paragliding to ziplining with no regulatory oversight.
Anil Joshi, the head of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation, said Uttarakhand hosts more tourists than it can afford to and pointed out that the court has stressed on the need to regulate the rafting business.
“Now, the ball is in the government’s court. It is time to ponder upon why NGT and court have to step in to save the Ganga. Because authorities did not act,” Joshi said.
“On weekends, it looks like as if there is a rafting jam all over the river. This would not have been possible if there was a policy to regulate tourist traffic and operators,” the Padma Shri winner added.
Srinagar Garhwal-based people rights activist Mukesh Semwal echoed similar views.
“The court order is crucial but it also has to been seen that those (rafting operators) following regulations are not harassed,” he said.
Sub-divisional magistrate of Narendranagar Lakshmi Raj Chauhan said that a policy to regulate rafting is already in place.
“I will have to go through the court order before commenting,” he told the Hindustan Times over the phone.
While the secretary of the state’s tourism department Dileep Jawalkar did not respond, joint director Vivek Chauhan said adventure sports activities are conducted according to the rules.
Whitewater rafting started in the early 80’s in Rishikesh and by 2013 it became a huge industry worth Rs 75-80 crore annually.
There are no official figures available but rough estimates suggest two to three lakh people come every year for rafting mostly from the National Capital Region (NCR), Punjab and Haryana.
The nearly 1,000 operators in the 36-km Rishikesh-Kaudiyala stretch charge guests as less as Rs 500 to fend off stiff competition.
“In a bid to attract volumes, several operators keep the rates low only inviting problems,” Kiran Todaria, president of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters, said.
She could have been referring to tourists from Haryana, who were spotted drinking inside their vehicle standing in the middle of the Ganga in Rishikesh. Locals complained to the police which took action against them.
Operators are also accused of compromising on the safety of the tourists.
A tourist from Delhi drowned in the Ganga while rafting in January this year and another died in May last year. Earlier this year, a tourist sustained fractures while paragliding in Naukhuchiyatal in Nainital, the only place in the state that offers the popular adventure sport.
Gulshan Kumar, a rafting operator, said they “make every effort to ensure the safety of guests”. On the other hand, Girish Brijwasi, a paragliding instructor based out of Nainital district, accepted that minor and sometimes major accidents do happen.
“Why blame paragliders in Uttarakhand? Accidents are common in other states as well. The problem is that we lack professional institute in the country to train people,” Brijwasi said over the phone from Nainital.
Ratan Aswal, one of the operators, said the mushrooming of rafting and beach camping activities has been “definitely” been overlooked by the authorities.
“Nonetheless, administrative machinery has to ensure that everything goes smoothly,” he said.
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