In a big relief to hundreds of rafting camp operators of Uttarakhand, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday gave nod to beach camping in 25 sites along the River Ganga in Rishikesh.
As per the tribunal’s order camping will be permissible outside 100 meters radius from the middle of the river.
In December 2015, the NGT in its order had banned rafting and camping activities along 36 kms stretch between Kaudiyala and Rishikesh. It had then noted that the “camping ban” would continue till the “regulatory regime comes into force”.
That order was pronounced after an NGO – Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE) approached the tribunal against Uttarakhand government’s decision to issue licenses to number of camping sites without considering carrying capacity of the river.
In February last year, Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India submitted a report as per state government’s directives. Following the report, the state forest department on its part pleaded before the NGT for lifting ban on 33 sites.
However, after hearing arguments from stake holders, the NGT turned down permission for eight beaches that falls within 100 meters radius. Three other beaches were found suitable for rafting camps while 22 other beaches were partially okay for camping.
Meera Gopal, an advocate in the case, said those sites, which were found partially within this radius would not be allowed to undertake commercial activities within the restricted area.
Vikrant Tongad founder SAFE welcomed the decision. “The judgment will prove to be a milestone in safeguarding the fragility of ecosystem” the petitioner told HT.
According to Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters and Camp (IAPROC) some 5,000 odds people are directly associated with the white water rafting related business. These include cooks, house or store keepers, guest relations, drivers, rafting instructors etc.
“The camping and rafting goes together. We faced problems due to faulty policies of the government” said Ratan Aswal, owner of the Camp 5 Element.
As per official 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 forest and revenue departments give sites on lease for camping, which is usually for a year.
White water rafting picked at small level in 80’s and further grew by 2000s. The turnover from rafting and camping business is together pegged at nearly Rs 60 crores annually.