There is a growing demand for a complete ban on paragliding until proper safety measures are incorporated and implemented
In the past five years, over 30 paragliders have crashed at different places in Kangra and Mandi districts in Himachal Pradesh after taking off from Billing, killing 10 pilots including foreigners. A Canadian pilot, Cheval Christian Yaves Mare,was killed when his paraglider crash-landed near Bir. Chevan was flying alone when the tragedy occurred.
In 2018, a Singaporean pilot, Kok Chang, died after his glider crash landed in the upper reaches of Dhauladhar hills. Earlier, two Russian pilots were killed in similar mishaps. Last year, Rohit Badhoria, a Delhi-based pilot, was killed and his body was recovered after seven months from the Dhauladhar hills. In another mishap, paraglider Akshya and co-pilot Shyam Lal were killed. Both of them were untrained.
Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Himachal Pradesh. It contributes the major part of revenue to the state Government and is a source of livelihood to the local population. Due to the rising incidents of accidents of the paragliders and other adventure trekkers and mountaineers, the state government have come under the scanner and is getting a bad name. Several organizations including siblings Pavi Sareen and Naveen Sareen, who introduced paragliding in Billing in the 1990s, and the families of victims have demanded a complete ban on paragliding till proper safety measures are incorporated and implemented. Rightly so, because it was found that most of the pilots involved in such accidents lacked experience and had incomplete documents. Many pilots lack dual insurance cover, which has been made mandatory by the state government. The failure of the state agencies to check their documents and equipment has made the matter worse. In many cases, the gliders used by the pilots do not meet the safety standards. The pilots do not adhere to the tariff fixed by the Tourism Department and often fleece the tourists. Many of them are lured by inexperienced pilots, who charge less amount and this practice leads to fatal accidents. There is heavy influx of tourists at Billing and only one supervisor of Special Area Development Authority (SADA) is available to manage the affairs. Apart from the responsibility of managing the affairs of paragliding, he is also assigned other duties and his major job is compromised leading to inefficiency.
The state government directed the SDM Baijnath, Salem Aazam, and District Tourism Officer, P.P Singh, to hold consultations with the stakeholders. After discussion, it was decided to enforce the international SOPs for paragliding. Inexperienced pilots would not be allowed to fly solo or undertake tandem flights. Cooperation of paragliding association would be sought to address the issues. Keeping in view the rising mishaps, the government was also consideringimposing a complete ban on paragliding.
Himachal Pradesh is blessed with famous adventure tourism destinations like Prashar lake, the Kamrunag valley, Baralacha Pass, Shinkula Pass, the Shikari Devi temple and many more fortrekking and hiking. These tourist destinations situated in the lap of nature attracts a large number of tourists round the year. Due to high altitude, these regions receive heavy snowfall during winters and become inaccessible. However, trekkers do not hesitate to visit them in winters. That leads to serious mishaps. Many fatal incidents are reported every year, putting the state administration under pressure. The recent incident of the death of three tourists belonging to Goa and Maharashtra during a trip from Uttarkashi in Uttrakhand to Sangla in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh is a case in point. Concerned about these fatal mishaps during trekking in high mountains claiming precious lives, the Himachal Pradesh government has decided to undertake a mapping of various routes and classify them as red, orange and green. The IT department has been instructed to develop an app on which every trekker or even local residents embarking on a journey will have to register and their mobile numbers would be recorded so that the rescue parties could contact them while launching rescue operations. This will help the government to keep the record of all trekkers travelling on the route and it will be easy to monitor their movement and provide the required assistance in time of crisis. All Deputy Commissioners have been asked to identify trekking routes and zones so that the mapping of all major treks can be completed. This exercise will also help travel agents, guides and the trekkers to choose the journey they wish to undertake. The treks will be planned according to the skills and physical endurance levels of the tourists which would further reduce the changes of mishap in case of inclement weather conditions.
(The writer is a senior journalist and Chairman, Panwar Group of Institutions, Solan, Himachal Pradesh. The views expressed are personal.)