A better deal is needed for adventure tourism post HC’s ban on water sports

In an order which is likely to have far-reaching implications for Uttarakhand’s adventure tourism sector, the high court has banned all water sports, paragliding and white river rafting in the state until a policy is framed to regulate these activities. In an order dated June 18, the court directed the state government to ‘prepare a transparent policy in this regard within a period of two weeks’. The court also took note of rafting deaths every year due to capsizing of boat and said that it should only be permitted by highly trained professionals.

The court remarked that ‘sports for pleasure cannot be permitted to end in disaster’ while adding that the state government could not permit the use of rivers without fixing reasonable charges and inviting bids in a transparent procedure. Tourism must be promoted but it is required to be regulated, the court said in the order.

“We are shocked to know that the state government is permitting camping sites on river beds. It pollutes the environment and ecology of the river and the surrounding areas,” the division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh said. It said that launching points of river rafting are choked with traffic and directed the government to not permit the use of vehicles right up to the water of rivers.

Talking about the implemented ban, Rajesh Ojha, Honorary Secretary of ATOAI said, “We respect the honorable court’s intervention on this matter regarding safety and sustainability in the rafting and paragliding operations. But this order with immediate effect has caused a lot of grief to honest operators and tourists/travellers. We will request the Uttarakhand Government to ask for an immediate reprieve while making an attempt to address the spirit of the order. ATOAI has submitted draft policy on rafting and is willing to help the government effort to quickly finalise and notify it.”

While another industry source said, “We do respect the order of the honorable high court. The state of Uttarakhand already has an adventure tourism policy. We would like to suggest that the guidelines of the ATOAI are implemented across the country so that such an adverse situation should never happen again anywhere.  As far as the effects are concerned, this will adversely impact the adventure tourism industry in the state as there will be a lot of cancellations in the peak season of such activities. The Government of India is trying to promote adventure tourism. In fact, 2018 has been declared as the year of adventure tourism. Bans like this impact India’s image worldwide.”

Paragliding is equally dangerous if not regulated. The water sports in big lakes like Tehri Dam can prove fatal. These are required to be regulated, the court order stated. The HC said that river rafting, paragliding are permitted even without fixing the minimum rates and display of the same by organizers.

The directions came while hearing a public interest litigation filed by Hari Om Kashyap, a resident of Rishikesh, alleging that temporary structures are being set up on the banks of Ganga and rafting is carried out by private entrepreneurs who were flouting norms.

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