Adventure sports and related business took a hit in Uttarakhand after the National Green Tribunal on Thursday banned camping activities in a 36-kilometre stretch between Kaudiyala and Rishikesh.
December is a peak business season as sports lovers throng the Ganga beaches in the state, spend holidays and engage in their favourite sport, rafting.
But, this December, the scenario is entirely different. The series of camps which were a common sight at the silvery sandy beaches are no more visible after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) cracked the whip on the ‘unregulated’ camping activities in April this year.
An NGO – Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE) had moved the NGT against the government for recklessly issuing camping licenses without considering the carrying capacity of the river.
The PIL highlighted that serious environment issues had cropped up due to camping sites. Following the order, the local camp operators and Uttarakhand government approached the NGT but they got no relief.
Ratan Singh Aswal at his ‘Camp 5 Elements’ at the banks of Ganga in Rishikesh blamed the Uttarakhand government for not having any clear policy on camping activities. Aswal and his team of some 10-odd staff had been catering to the adventure sport to visitors since last two decades.
He said, “Rafting and camping go together. The faulty government policies have taken a toll on our business. The local economy revolves around rafting business and see my people are without job.”
A series of colourful rafts are still visible on the Ganga but the tourist rush is missing, operators said. Before the ban the jeeps carrying rafts on the roofs and tourists jostling for their turns, lined outside camps was a routine sight at the Rishikesh – Badrinath National Highway.
Harshit, a youngster working with a two-wheeler automobile company at Gurgaon, has been a regular visitor to Rishikesh. He regretted that he would miss his “playing on the banks, enjoying cool breeze and the fun.
Rafting enthusiast Dev Raj Agarwal said, “The restrictions (on camping) to me are biased and tourists must be blamed for their behaviour before banning anything blindly.”
According to the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters and Camp (IAPROC), some 5,000 odd people are directly associated with the white water rafting related business. These include cooks, house or store keepers, guest relations, drivers, rafting instructors etc.
As per the records, 136 rafting operators and 157 camping sites were registered with the government agencies. The permission for rafting is given by the tourism department while the forest and revenue departments give lease for camping, which is usually for a year.
Kiran Todaria, a pioneer in the white water rafting and also president IAPROC, said they had been demanding a transparent camping policy since 1999.
“People will ask for camping licenses but it is the job of the government to do scrutiny and regulate. The government failed and now everyone is suffering” she said.
HT investigation during May found that that several points the NGO has raised in its petition were true. Several of the camps were erected at small supporting down streams which are considered a breeding site for Mahseer, mighty fish crucial for aqua-ecosystem.
The petition noted camping sites lack proper waste disposal and sewage facilities resulting in disposal of solid waste into the river directly. The high decibel music played at several camping sites till late night hours disturb wild animals in nearby forests.
Forest minister Dinesh Agarwal said, “Frankly I have never gone through under which policy camps are allotted. But yes I will certainly look into it since we don’t want the industry to die like that.”
Rs 1000-5000 per person: Per night stay at a camping site before ban
Rs 1000-5000 per person: Charge for rafting
Adventure activities like rock climbing, repelling and kayaking are additional features.