New Delhi, June 22: The Uttarakhand High Court has banned white river rafting, paragliding and other water sports in the state until a policy on the same is framed by the Trivendra Singh Rawat-led government.
Observing that there is no law to regulate water sports, the court said they are being carried out illegally. A two-judge bench has given the state government two weeks to prepare a transparent draft policy.
The court’s decision comes as a jolt to adventure tourism and water sports in the Himalayan state.
A division bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh ordered the ban in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Rishikesh-based social activist Hari Om Kashyap.
The HC directed the state government to enact suitable legislation for regulating adventure and water sports throughout Uttarakhand. The order was issued by the HC on Monday, but a copy was made available only on Thursday.
“The State government is directed to prepare the transparent policy within a period of two weeks. Till the policy is framed, no white river rafting, paragliding and other water sports shall be permitted in the state of Uttarakhand,” the order said.
A report in Hindustan Times said that in the past decade, 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. White water rafting in Uttarakhand is valued at a yearly Rs. 75-80 crore. It employs 5,000 – 7,000 people including guides, cooks, instructors and drivers.
Kiran Todaria, president of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), says at least 300 rafting operators are active along a 36-km strretch of the Ganga. “It’s an industry that provides indirect jobs to no less than 10,000 families,” she said.
The petitioner said in his PIL that state authorities were giving illegal leases in favour of private agencies to organize water sports on the Ganga. According to the petitioner, temporary structures are being permitted to be set up on the banks of the river.
“The State Government cannot be oblivious to its duties to regulate and restrict the unauthorized activities. The white river rafting is a serious sport. 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 stated.
After seeing pictures of picnics inside the river and camping sites on the river bed, the judges said that the sanctity of the rivers was not being maintained. It said these activities were polluting the environment and ecology of the river and surrounding areas. “The tourism must be promoted but it is required to be regulated. The sports for pleasure cannot be permitted to end in disaster,” the court added.
The water sports will resume after the state government has drafted its policy on the same.