HC suspends water sports in Uttarakhand till the government acts
This might hit your travel plans hard. The Uttarakhand HC has suspended water sports in all the rivers in the state, including in Rishikesh, till the administration implements an efficient safety policy targeting both tourists and the environment. The state government has two weeks to come up with the policy. The order was issued four days ago, but it was made public only yesterday.
The thriving water sports industry has no safety measures
Uttarakhand is an adventure lover's delight. Around 8L tourists take rafting tours from the Kaudiyala, Shivpuri or Brahmpuri points annually. But three among 12 major rapids in the popular Kaudiyala-Rishikesh stretch are considered very dangerous, and have claimed several lives. Rafting agencies have mushroomed, but in violation of norms, inexperienced guides regularly load young children, women in saris and the elderly into overcrowded rafts.
On the other hand, impact on environment is deadly
The impact on environment is hazardous too. The court noted tourists are allowed to organize picnics and camps near the river, which results in rampant littering. Private agencies illegally set up temporary structures on the banks for their operations. Small vehicles carrying huge rafts go right up to the water, which pollutes it. Meanwhile, raw sewage is also being dumped directly into the river.
The state government cannot be oblivious to its duties: HC
In its order, the HC laid out some rules: there should be fixed rates for using the rivers for such purposes, and vehicles shouldn't be allowed to come near the water. "Sports for pleasure cannot be permitted to end in disaster," it said, specifically mentioning paragliding and white water rafting. SS Chauhan, deputy advocate general, said related laws are in the offing.
This might leave thousands of families helpless
Despite the noble intentions, the HC order is likely to take a toll. The white water rafting market in Uttarakhand, which is valued at Rs. 75-80cr annually, employs some 7,000 people, including guides, cooks, drivers and instructors. Kiran Todaria, President, Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), puts the number of families indirectly employed at 10,000.
Meanwhile, some parts are even lacking water to drink
Incidentally, this comes days after experts said all hill-stations in Uttarakhand are fast heading towards a severe water-crisis. HP Uniyal, former Chief GM of the Water Works department, believes tourist spots in the state will soon suffer like Shimla if immediate steps aren't taken. Primary reasons are lack of proper rainwater conservation, wastage of sanctioned water, indiscriminate felling of trees, and illegal constructions.