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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Death of Delhi woman while rafting in Rishikesh puts focus on violation of safety norms

Bhagwati Verma, a resident of Delhi’s Lakshmi Nagar, drowned after the raft overturned at a ‘golf course’ rapid on Wednesday

dehradun Updated: Jan 04, 2018 17:22 IST
Anupam Trivedi
Anupam Trivedi
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Safety norms are often violated by Rishikesh’s rafting operating agencies that have mushroomed in the last one decade
Safety norms are often violated by Rishikesh’s rafting operating agencies that have mushroomed in the last one decade (HT File Photo )

The multi-crore white-water rafting industry in Rishikesh is hit by a tragedy as a 33-year-old woman rafter from Delhi died while trying to maneuver the waters, raising safety concerns.

Bhagwati Verma drowned after the raft overturned at a ‘golf course’ rapid on Wednesday noon, police said.

“The lady, a resident of Lakshmi Nagar of Delhi, was rushed to the hospital where she was declared brought dead. We are investigating the case” Manish Upadhyay, in-charge of the Muni-Ki-Reti police station told HT over phone on Thursday.

The woman was trapped in the rapid after the raft in which she was sitting overturned in the strong current of the Ganga. Three more tourists who also fell into the water were timely rescued.

This is the first rafting accident of the year.

The white-water rafting in Rishikesh attracts hundreds of tourists mostly from national capital region and Punjab. Although the numbers have been growing, but hardly any safety measures are followed for the adventure sports.

Last year 35-year-old Subhash Kumar from Delhi died when his raft capsized while taking a turn on the “golf course’ rapids. In 2013, the industry was struck by a major tragedy when six persons died during rafting.

“The guides are required to undergo training from time to time. Those who had already gone through such training session need refresher course” said Kiran Todaria, president, Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO).

Todaria, who had conducted such training courses in the past, says administration needs to take care of the security of the guests and training of the rafters.

According to an estimate around 8 lakh tourists annually do rafting that begins from three points – Kaudiyala, Shivpuri and Brahmpuri.

Ratan Aswal, a veteran rafting operator who runs ‘Camp 5 Element’, says in the last decade hundreds of rafting operating agencies mushroomed, which have little or no concern about the safety of tourists.

“The overloaded rafts could be seen bobbling in the Ganga. Women in saris, old persons, kids are also usually visible on the rafts” Aswal told HT.

As a norm, a child below 14 years, a woman in a saree and a person above 60 years are not allowed to do rafting. But the rules are mostly bypassed.

A raft can carry between six to eight people.

However, it is not clear whether the raft that overturned on Wednesday was overloaded. A source claimed the rafts nowadays carry anywhere between 10-14 people.

As per Aswal there are few operators who ensure that only those who are good at rafting are permitted to cross tough rapids. He said ideally a rafting session takes 4-5 days.

“Only expert rafters can cross major rapids safely. Sadly in the one night, one day format every rafter acts as he or she is an expert”.

There are 12 major rapids in Kaudiyala-Rishikesh stretch. Out of these 12, three-- namely golf course, wall and roller coster-- are considered very dangerous.

Among the three, ‘gold course’ rapid, where the Delhi tourist was trapped, is the longest.

According to 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 rafting industry that picked at small level in 80’s, witnessed a massive growth by 2000s.