High court bans all water sports in Uttarakhand

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.

“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.
“Huge rafts are placed on vehicles of a small size. The vehicles on which the rafts are carried out are taken directly near the water itself,” it observed. 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.

“The sanctity of the river Ganga is not maintained by the respondent-state by permitting the lease of river beds. The raw sewage/sewerage is permitted to directly flow into the river. The state government till date has not enacted any law to regulate white river rafting, paragliding or water sports,” it said.

“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,” said the court.
The HC said that river rafting, paragliding are permitted even without fixing the minimum rates and display of the same by organizers. “The state government has not pointed out precisely what is the yardstick, guidelines and parameters to sanction the lease in favour of private parties on the river beds including for boating/rafting, paragliding and other water sports,” observed the bench.

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