River rafting at Pahalgam: Stakeholders raise eyebrows

‘Tourism deptt patronizing unqualified operators to conduct the sport’

Srinagar: Tourism Department has again come in for severe criticism from the stakeholders for allegedly patronizing some “favorite’’ operators to conduct this sport at Pahalgam.

According to stakeholders the department is allegedly allowing rafting at Pahalgam by unqualified operators who unlike the agencies conducting the exercise at Yaner, are not even being charged any fee by the department.
According to stakeholders due to the bad policies of the department, “this favourte adventure sport has been reduced into a liability for the real stakeholders.”
“This sport needs a lot of professionalism and expertise on the part of those who conduct it. This is not something which anybody without having any experience can be allowed to conduct,” the stakeholders said.
“In May a tourist died and another was injured as people who had no experience in rafting business were allowed to conduct it at Pahalgam,’’ they said.  
They said the stakeholders who have invested lot of money into this trade were being allowed to conduct the sport at Yaner. “But ever since the rafting has been allowed at Pahalgam by a selected group of operators who enjoy political patronage, the operators at Yaner have been rendered jobless.”
The rafting at Pahalgam is hitting the business at Yaner in Islamabad (Anantnag), they said.  
“Even as the government is making tall claims about bringing about professionalism in adventure tourism, it is allowing inexperienced agencies to conduct the rafting in Kashmir,” an official in the Tourism Department said.
At Yaner, some 8 kilometers from Pahalgam, the official said, the government was charging Rs 6 lakh as annual fee from the private agencies for conducting rafting. “Despite that the rafting had earlier been stopped at Pahalgam, but again the same authorities are allowing it at Pahalgam that too without charging the fee,” he said.  
Sources said that besides Yaner, the rafting has only been permitted at Sonmarg in Kashmir. “There is no justification in allowing the rafting at Pahalgam,” they said. 
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Pahalgam Development Authority, said: “I have no idea where rafting is taking place in Pahalgam. The matter is being looked into by higher officials.”
Director Tourism, Talat Pervaiz, however said that the government has announced “many measures to promote the rafting here.” 
He said the government has identified many places in Kashmir where the rafting can be allowed and promoted.