The Uttarakhand High Court has banned water sports, white water rafting and paragliding in the state citing safety and environmental concerns. The order has come as a huge shock to the adventure tourism industry in their peak season.
In an order that was made available on Thursday, the court said, "We are shocked to know that the state government is permitting camping sites on the river beds. It pollutes the environment and ecology of the river and the surrounding areas."
"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.
The court also took note of the deaths caused by rafting every year due to capsizing of the rafts. White water rafting in Uttarakhand is valued at yearly Rs 70-80 crores. It employs approximately 10,000 people including guides, cooks, instructors and drivers.
According to Rishikesh-based petitioner Hari Om Kashyap, temporary structures are being permitted to be set up on the banks of the river and rafting is being carried out by private companies in the absence of any law.
Gagan Bhist who owns Char Machan, an adventure sport company, said they receive visitors from across the country and June is their peak season. The ban is a jolt to his business. In the last 24 hours, 200 cancellations have cost his business a loss of Rs 4 lakh.
"We welcome the court order but it must be the prerogative of the state to implement laws. We want to preserve the ecology and the environment here as it provides us our livelihood but why should we face the consequences especially when there are only eight days left for this season," he added.
Rafters camp along the river with lush green hilly forests forming the background and use vehicles to transport their rafts into the water. Experts say this causes erosion of the river bed and traffic congestion along the river.
"Business is important for tourism revenue but the environment and people's safety is paramount," he added.