Uttarakhand bans boating in rivers – a controversial step by the government?

In recent news, Uttarakhand High Court has banned all water sports activities such as white water rafting and paragliding in the state due to safety concerns. The High Court, on Monday, administered the Uttarakhand government to approve suitable law for supervising adventure and water sports throughout the state.

A division bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh imposed the ban in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Rishikesh-based social activist named Hari Om Kashyap.

Credits: Hindustan Times File Photo

“We are shocked to know that the state government is permitting camping sites on river beds. It pollutes the environment and ecology of the river and the surrounding areas,” Rajiv Sharma and Lok Pal Singh said.

“The State government is directed to prepare the transparent policy within a period of two weeks. Till the policy is framed, no white river rafting, paragliding and other water sports shall be permitted in the state of Uttarakhand,” the order said.

“Huge rafts are placed on vehicles of a small size. The vehicles on which the rafts are carried out are taken directly near the water itself,” it said.

“The sanctity of the river Ganga is not maintained by the respondent-state by permitting the lease of river beds. The raw sewage/sewerage is permitted to directly flow into the river. The state government till date has not enacted any law to regulate white river rafting, paragliding or water sports,” it said.

“Paragliding is equally dangerous if not regulated. The water sports in big lakes like Tehri Dam can prove fatal. These are required to be regulated,” said the court.

White water rafting in Uttarakhand holds a strong history. It is valued at a yearly Rs. 75-80 crore and it employs over 5,000 – 7,000 people including guides, cooks, instructors and drivers.

Kiran Todaria who is the president of the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO), says at least 300 rafting operators are always active along a 36-km strretch of the Ganga. “It’s an industry that provides indirect jobs to no less than 10,000 families,” she said.

“We have also gone through the photographs. We can see people organizing picnics inside the river water. They can be seen drinking in the river water. The sanctity of the river Ganga is not maintained by the respondent-state by permitting the lease of river beds,” the order said.

SS Chauhan, the deputy advocate general representing the state government in the case, said that a law is going to be put into effect soon.

“The state government has not pointed out precisely what is the yardstick, guidelines and parameters to sanction the lease in favour of the private parties on the river beds including for boating/rafting, paragliding and other water sports,” the HC said, observing the risk of people dying when a raft overturns in the river.

“This can only be permitted to be managed by the highly trained professionals. The river beds cannot be leased out for a song. There has to be transparent procedure for inviting the applications after fixing the minimum rates for using the water.

The state government cannot permit the use of rivers without fixing reasonable charges. The tourism must be promoted but it is required to be regulated. The sports for pleasure cannot be permitted to end in disaster”, the order said.

Hailing from Chennai, Chaithanya G is the Managing Director of TheYouth. He has dedicated his whole life to reading and writing.