There is a growing demand for a complete ban on paragliding until appropriate safety measures are incorporated and implemented.
Over the past five years, more than 30 paragliders have crashed at various locations 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 crashed near Bir. Chevan was flying alone when the tragedy occurred.
In 2018, a Singaporean pilot, Kok Chang, died after his glider crashed high in the Dhauladhar Hills. Earlier, two Russian pilots were killed in similar accidents. Last year Rohit Badhoria, a Delhi-based pilot, was killed and his body was found after seven months in the Dhauladhar Hills. In another crash, paraglider Akshya and co-pilot Shyam Lal were killed. Both were untrained.
Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Himachal Pradesh. It contributes most of the state government revenue and is a source of livelihood for the local population. Due to the increase in the number of accidents of paragliders and other adventure hikers and climbers, the state government has come under scrutiny and has a bad reputation. Several organizations, including siblings Pavi Sareen and Naveen Sareen, who introduced paragliding to Billing in the 1990s, and the families of the victims have demanded a total ban on paragliding until proper safety measures are incorporated. and implemented. Rightly so, as it was found that most of the pilots involved in such accidents lacked experience and had incomplete documents. Many pilots do not have dual insurance coverage, which has been made mandatory by the state government. The failure of state agencies to verify their documents and equipment made matters worse. In many cases, gliders used by pilots do not meet safety standards. The pilots do not adhere to the price set by the Tourism Directorate and often defraud tourists. Many of them are attracted to inexperienced pilots, who charge less and this practice leads to fatal accidents. There is a large influx of tourists to Billing and only one Supervisor from the Special Area Development Authority (SADA) is available to handle the business. Besides the responsibility of managing the business of the paraglider, he is also given other tasks and his main job is compromised resulting in inefficiency.
The state government has asked the SDM Baijnath, Salem Aazam and the district tourism manager, PP Singh, to hold consultations with stakeholders. After discussion, it was decided to apply the international SOPs for paragliding. Inexperienced pilots would not be permitted to fly solo or perform tandem flights. The cooperation of the paragliding association would be sought to resolve the problems. Given the increase in misadventures, the government was also considering a total ban on paragliding.
Himachal Pradesh is blessed with famous adventure tourism destinations like Prashar Lake, Kamrunag Valley, Baralacha Pass, Shinkula Pass, Shikari Devi Temple and many more treks and treks. These tourist destinations located in the middle of nature attract a large number of tourists all year round. Due to the high altitude, these areas receive heavy snowfall during winters and become inaccessible. However, hikers do not hesitate to visit them in winter. This leads to serious mishaps. Numerous fatal incidents are reported each year, putting the state administration under pressure. The recent incident of the deaths of three tourists from Goa and Maharashtra while traveling from Uttarkashi in Uttrakhand to Sangla in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, is one example. Concerned about these fatal misadventures during high mountain hikes causing precious victims, the government of Himachal Pradesh has decided to undertake a mapping of the various routes and classify them in red, orange and green. The IT department has been tasked with developing an application on which every hiker or even residents who undertake a trip will have to register and their mobile numbers will be registered so that the emergency services can contact them when the rescue operations are launched. This will help the government keep a record of all hikers traveling on the route and it will be easy to monitor their movements and provide necessary assistance in times of crisis. All deputy commissioners were asked to identify the routes and hiking areas so that the mapping of all the main hikes could be completed. This exercise will also help travel agents, guides and hikers choose the trip they want to take. The treks will be planned according to the skills and physical endurance levels of the tourists, which would further reduce accident changes in the event of inclement weather conditions.
(The author is a senior journalist and Chairman of the Panwar Group of Institutions, Solan, Himachal Pradesh. The views expressed are personal.)