Alarmed over the death of a 12-year-old Bengaluru child in a recent accident at a paragliding site, Himachal Pradesh High Court has raised questions on the government's failures to monitor, enforce norms and regulate adventure activities, which are resulting in several mishaps. Several of these accidents prove to be fatal due to the absence of adequate safety protocols.
In its suo-moto action, a division bench comprising Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Satyen Vaidya treated a media report about child’s death and grief of parents as a Public Interest Petition (PIL) and issued notice to the Director-General of Police (DGP) and others seeking replies within five weeks.
"Himachal Pradesh has always been a much-sought tourist destination. Its importance has grown immensely during the Covid-19 pandemic. Under these circumstances, can the state really afford to turn a nelson’s eye to the repeated mishaps without taking any remedial steps, particularly in the field of adventure sports viz rappelling, river crossing, skiing, trekking, rock climbing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, bungee jumping and joy rides?" the court questioned.
The incident, which has attracted the High Court's intervention relates to serious lapses in the loss of the innocent life of 12-year-old Advik, son of Rishabh Tripathi, an IT professional from Bangalore, who was on a family trip to Himachal Pradesh on December 22. The family had decided to do paragliding in the Bir Billing, an area having shot into fame in 2013 after hosting an international event, and now a major tourist attraction in Kangra valley.
“At the location, we were asked to sign a waiver form and were informed that we will be transported to the take-off site,10 to 12 km, through the vehicle of the paragliders. The vehicle, an open jeep, designed to carry five, actually had nine passengers and was overloaded. The driver was negligent and hit a scooty after which he lost control and the vehicle went into a 15-feet gorge” recalls Tripathi.
His wife sustained serious injuries and he himself got injured, suffered a block-out. However, Advik could not survive and also could not get proper and timely emergency medical intervention. The driver and others, including paragliding pilots, fled away from the site of the accident.
Tripathi, who has taken to social media, has sought answers from the government on how the entire mess-up of unorganized operators has been allowed at the cost of the lives of the people.
“How many Adviks will it take for the Himachal Pradesh Government to take notice?” he asked through an online petition.
The High Court, in its order, noted that despite several regulatory bodies and committees existing on paper, no serious efforts have ever been made to enforce the norms and ensure that only well-trained professionals, and license holders, are allowed to handle the adventure activities.
“Despite the composition of the regulatory Committees, the number of mishaps and accidents have not decreased. The most evident reason for the same appears to be the lack of overall monitoring of the adventurous activities by those at the helm of affairs” the bench pointed out.
The court noted that the service providers including the operators, guides, instructors etc have failed to adhere to the basics in providing safety covers to their clients, who are total strangers to the adventure sports and majority of the persons are trying the adventure for the first time.
“There really appears to be no check or any periodic inspection of the staff, equipment, instruments etc. of these operators. Therefore, it is high time that such practices must be discontinued and stopped forthwith,“ said the court as it set up a committee under the Secretary, District Legal Service Authority to undertake a detailed probe and personally verify documents of registration and license of the operators, and period of their validity.
Speaking to Outlook, Anurag Sharma, President Bir-Billing Paragliding Association, said, “Things are completely in a mess and every day, we are hearing about mishaps happening at Bir-Billing. The government has turned totally deaf ear and most mishaps are happening because of non-compliance with safety norms. A dozen or more deaths take place every year but the government, despite our requested reminders, have not acted to enforce compliance with the regulations. There are just 100-plus license holders but more than double this numbers, are unlicensed,under-trained or unskilled."
After the death of a person from Nagrota Bhagwan (Kangra) in November, recalls Sharma, the association had withdrawn itself from all future paragliding activities because of safety norms being compromised by unlicensed or also licenced operators.
Superintendent of police (Kangra ) Khushal Sharma said, “Most of the committee don't have police representatives as its members. We only come into the picture when there is a mishap or death to register FIRs, make arrests and do post-mortems. The government should take a call on enforcing proper SoPs and allowing only those to carry out paragliding and have highly trained pilots."
In its 14-page order, the High Court has decided to invite Rishabh Tripathi to the next virtual hearing on February 21, 2022, to seek his inputs and suggestions for fixing the lapses in the system on adventure tourism activities.