Towards the end of last year, a Bengaluru-based family lost their 12-year-old son in an accident at a popular paragliding site in Himachal Pradesh. More recently, in Dandeli, a group of tourists had a close shave as they were involved in an accident while river rafting. These incidents have raised concerns over the need for safety precautions and guidelines and a crack down on illegal operators.
Tourism is well and truly back, and the sector is leaving no stone unturned to make up for the humongous losses endured during two washouts of summer vacations. Karnataka is also emerging as a popular destination for adventure sports as domestic tourism — as it was predicted — is seeing new heights in demand with the pandemic and other challenges making international tourism less attractive. Kayaking, bouldering, rock climbing, mountain biking, motocross, scuba diving, paragliding — Karnataka has scope for water, land and air based activities. However, the flipside is illegal operations and the risks associated with them.
Senior kayaking instructor Manik Taneja was in Dandeli when the recent accident occurred. “We were a group of independent kayaks and we had taken permission from the forest department as this is the only white water river and we practise here. We were quite horrified with the accident and how things are happening there. It’s out of control. There are some companies doing it the right way. But 80-90% are not,” he said.
Elaborating, he said ideally, before you get into a raft, there needs to be a safety briefing. This would include adhering to a raft’s capacity, training the participants on a stretch of calm water, explaining dos and don’ts, including what to do if someone falls off, quick drills, etc. “Guides need to be trained for this. But companies are skipping the briefing completely. During the weekend, there were 5000-6000 people in the river at any given time. We couldn’t even practise in the first rapid. It was an accident waiting to happen. We saw the commotion after — police stopped most companies and permission was given to three. They were overwhelmed. I had to warn people off because they were stepping into the water without a life jacket. There are safety protocols and crowd control is absolutely necessary,” he said.
Adventure sports will pick up big time, said Mr. Taneja, but cautioned that it is not a mela. “It is degrading to the environment. There is a carrying capacity for everything. People need to be told what the safety norms are and there has to be a ticketing system. It is not just in the River Kali. It is happening everywhere - in Dubare or any river which is commercially being rafted. People are flouting norms left right and centre.
A senior tourism department official conceded that there are illegal operations. “It’s unfortunate that most of them are running illegally. We have to initiate action against officials responsible for such blatant violations,” said an official. Manojkumar, Managing Director, Jungle Lodges & Resorts Limited told The Hindu that JLR is the only agency authorised by the Forest Department as it is part of the forest area.
In 2015, the General Thimayya National Academy of Adventure (GETHNAA) had brought about guidelines for adventure tourism. “Today, there is a steady rise in outbound adventure.. It is important that adventure activities are conducted in a way which minimises risks and yet provides the undeniable benefits of participation, the document said.
The ‘Safety Guidelines’ are applicable to land, aqua and aero based adventure activities, and are mandatory for unregistered commercial/non-commercial organisations and individuals organising adventure activities, registered profit making/commercial organisations organising adventure activities, as well as schools, colleges or other type of Institutions organising adventure, among others. The document also specifies management responsibility, skills and competencies required, equipment specifications, field guidelines for trekking, rappelling and valley crossing, mountain biking, risk management and critical incidents and complaints redressal.
Department officials added that the GETHNAA has been working with the Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports to issue new guidelines, including for recognition of adventure tourism operators. However, operators pointed out that no experts are being consulted. “The State has a lot of scope and it is to be enjoyed, but it is a double edged sword. We have to do it right,” said one of them.