A day after the Uttarakhand High Court banned paragliding, river rafting and other water sports across the state, confusion prevailed among rafting operators, especially in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand’s rafting hub, over the consequences the order could have on the lives of almost 8,000 people in the rafting business who could directly be impacted by the ban.
While the High Court gave the ordered Monday, the written order to the effect was issued on Thursday.
A Division Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh was hearing a 2014 PIL filed by a Rishikesh resident, Hari Om Kashyap, where he had contended that private operators in the rafting business in the river Ganga were flouting norms. “We recommend the State Government to make suitable legislation for regulating white water river rafting, paragliding and other water sports throughout the State of Uttarakhand. Till then, the State Government is directed to prepare the transparent policy within a period of two weeks,” the order stated, adding that “till the policy is framed, no white water river rafting, paragliding and other water sports shall be permitted in the State of Uttarakhand”.
Since no written instructions banning the sport were received by rafting operators from the governing authority – the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) – most of them continued to operate on Friday.
Uttarakhand Tourism Secretary Dilip Jawalkar told the The Indian Express that state policies are already in existence on the matter. “It’s incorrect to state that there is no state government policy in place to guide river rafting. Uttarakhand River Rafting/Kayaking Rules, 2014, are already in existence, under which licenses are given to 300 private operators that are valid for a year. The technical committee of the UTDB examines all credentials of the private operators before issuing licenses. Rules for other water sports, and paragliding and are also being framed,” he said.
Jawalkar said that the state government will now “take legal route” and seek a stay on the ban.
Looking at the annual earnings from river rafting, it is currently a Rs 80 crore industry.
While rafting takes place across Uttarakhand rivers, including the Ganga, the Kali, the Alaknanda, and the Bhagirathi, the most commercially viable stretch is the 24-kilometre stretch between Marine Drive beach and NIM beach of the Ganga in Rishikesh, where upto 256 small and big private rafting operators are currently employed.
Being the peak rafting season, over the last weekend, upto 30,000 tourists did rafting on the Ganga in Rishikesh, where more than 1,000 rafts are currently functioning, the charges for rafting varying from Rs 350 to Rs 1,250 per person.
While the rafting industry provides direct employment to almost 8,000 people who operate over the Ganga, several thousand others, including hotel and restaurant owners, shop keeps and taxi owners are indirectly employed by it.
Manjul Rawat, who is the general secretary of Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), a commercial body of rafting operators, said, “The court order is confusing. It mentions the setting up of beach camping sites on riverbeds, but after an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) three years back, setting beach camps was banned along the Ganga in Rishikesh. Also, regulations are already in place for rafting. We agree that improvements can be made, but banning rafting and other water sports is incorrect as it will affect the livelihood of thousands of people that depend on the rafting industry.”