Paragliding could be dangerous if safety rules are not followed. But in Manali, nobody seems to mind breaking the rules set by the Himachal tourism department.
After all, it is peak tourist season there — time to make money.
Three years ago, after a series of paragliding accidents, the high court had banned the sport. Until the tourism department made registration compulsory, and listed safety rules and pilot eligibility criterion.
"Every tour operator has now been registered. We also inspect the paragliding equipment," says Subhash Ahluwalia, commissioner, HP tourism.
Manali Sub-Divisional Magistrate Vinay Singh Thakur counters: "Not all operators have been certified yet." But they continue to fly, local pilots admit.
Roshan Lal Thakur of the Himalayan Institute of Adventure Sports says there are no experts to implement the rules. "A technical panel is supposed to check the pilot’s equipment and fitness level. But it has no experts. They want pilots to be qualified, but who’ll list that criteria?"
Vinay Sharma, a local pilot, says to qualify they need five years of tandem and solo flying experience. But Ahluwalia says pilots should be trained from a recognised institute.
On the popular paragliding location, Bir-Billing, Baijnath legislator Sudhir Sharma says local pilots dominate the skies here. Most of the boys make a living by taking tourists on tandem joyrides that cost Rs. 400 per person. At other times, they run taxis, or take groups for trekking or fishing.
Ahluwalia says operators are supposed to check the tourist’s fitness. But S. Thakur of Himalayan Quest Adventures says, "There is no facility for an on-the-spot checkup."
This year no serious accident has occurred, says Roshan Lal. But in the absence of checks, its possibility cannot be ruled out, he adds.