River rafting ban: Debate rages between adventure sports cos, environmentalists
By Pawan Kumar Singh
New Delhi, Jun 22 (PTI) When we think of river rafting, Rishikesh strikes our mind instantly as it is the perfect weekend getaway far from the maddening crowd, with rafting being one of the popular activities.
River rafting generates adrenaline rush to adventure enthusiasts as they ride down the thundering rapids of the Ganges with inflatable boats, carbon paddles and helmets.
The Uttarakhand High Court's order imposing a ban on river rafting and paragliding across the state has come as a shocker to adventure sports companies and adventure tourists who say a blanket ban is not the solution.
The order has, however, been welcomed by the environmentalists who said the high court order was in interest of the environment and ecology.
Arvind Bhardwaj of Red Chilli Adventure said the high court order will hit the rafting business very hard as it would render the people jobless.
"I am involved in adventure activities in Rishikesh for the last 24 years. I am surprised to hear of this order. The state government had already issued guidelines for rafting.
"To put a ban on white river rafting and paragliding across the state is very harsh direction. Our business has come to a standstill. This is the peak season for tourists. Now we will have to cancel all the bookings. Huge loss would be suffered by us. Putting a blanket ban is not the solution. A proper monitoring has to be put in place for effective implementation of laws," Bhardwaj told PTI.
When contacted, environment activist Vikrant Tongad, who had also filed a petition in National Green Tribunal against camping along the river, welcomed the high court decision, saying it was a very good order which would go a long way in protection of the environment and ecology.
"The NGT has already ordered a ban on camping activities within 100 metres of the Ganga from Kaudiyala to Rishikesh. The high court order will go a long way in saving the pristine nature of the river. This is a very good order. Now it is for the Uttarakhand government to properly implement the ban," Tongad said.
Kiran Todaria, president of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), said the livelihood of many families will be affected by this order.
"I have not seen the high court order yet. But going by the media report, it looks very absurd. I cannot understand how rafting can cause pollution in river. Banning any activity is not the solution. It is an industry that provides jobs to almost 10,000 families," he said.
Gurgaon resident Pradyumna Sisodia, who was planning to go to Rishikesh this weekend for rafting, said he had already booked a camp site but got a cancellation call from the tour operator last night who told him about the high court order.
"Our family was too excited for this trip but our bookings were cancelled at the last minute. I don't have any idea about the high court order but I don't understand how rafting would cause pollution to the river," he said.
Rishi Sachdeva of Cradle of Life, who runs campsite on the banks of Ganges in Shivpuri, also told PTI that the order will have a very negative impact on the business.
"This order will hit local markets as well. Mostly, the youth come to Rishikesh for camping and rafting. In their absence the local livelihood will be affected to a great extent. Since last night we have cancelled 70-80 per cent bookings. Our major income comes in the weekends but due to this order all reservations have been cancelled," Sachdeva said.
Water rafting business in Uttarakhand is estimated to be generating a turnover of Rs 75-80 crore annually and employs nearly 10,000 people including guides, cooks, instructors and drivers.
Underlining the need to regulate adventure sports like white river rafting and paragliding, the Uttarakhand High Court's division bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and Lokpal Singh in a recent order directed the state government to prepare a transparent policy on adventure sports in the state within two weeks.
Till such a policy is framed, no paragliding, white river rafting and other water sports shall be permitted in the state of Uttarakhand, the court said.
The high court order came on a PIL filed by Rishikesh-based Hari Om Kashyap. alleging issuance of illegal leases in favour of private parties in Ganga riverbed