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11 May 2018

Rafting hits troubled waters .... Regulations, training affected: operators

Laborbote in Melli, the starting point of white water rafting on the Teesta in Kalimpong district. File picture
Vivek Chhetri, TT, May 11, 2018, Darjeeling: "Complacency" at all levels has crept into the business of white-river rafting in the hills, a section of the operators said on Thursday, a day after a tourist died following a capsize in the Teesta.

The death of Roshan Singh, 38, a resident of Bihar's Muzaffarpur who was on honeymoon, prompted the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to declare that it was looking at putting in "some regulations" for the rafters.

Roshan, his wife Banshika and four other tourists from Delhi were on the raft when it overturned near 6th Mile in Kalimpong, 50km from Siliguri.

"We will work closely with the Kalimpong district administration and put in some regulations for the rafters. Issues like proper training, having a rescue raft moving along the stretch at all times and regular checks on equipments will have to be done. Ways to get proper signals from the NHPC (a central hydro-power company) on the release of water from their dams also have to be worked out," GTA chief Binay Tamang said on Wednesday.

Some rafters, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted complacency had set in. "In 2012, the GTA had bought in experts from National Institute of Water Sports, Goa, and provided us with 15 days' training on life-saving techniques and rafting. Those who passed were given licences but those who failed were not," said a veteran rafter.

The licence was to be renewed every two years. "Neither the GTA, the institute nor the rafters took any initiative to renew this licence," the rafter added.

Many young people have now joined the profession, solely relying on their natural abilities. "Earlier, the GTA used to provide permission to start rafting in the Teesta but over the past few years, political affiliations are what is needed to start business," said another rafter.

There are allegations that the guides - those who steer the raft - are under pressure to complete trips quickly.

"A guide on the raft at times is paid only about Rs 400 per trip. A trip costs the customer around Rs 5,000 but such is the competition that drivers (of tourist vehicles) who bring visitors take as much as Rs 1,500 as commission," said an insider.

Old rafters have their own rules which have been drawn upon their experiences. "If there are old people or children on the boat, old rafters steer their raft into river Rangit as the water is calmer and warmer compared to river Teesta," said another rafter.

There are more than 50 rafts that ferry tourists along the Teesta.

Viswanath, district magistrate, Kalimpong, said a probe had been launched into Wednesday's tragedy. "We have started an inquiry to look into all aspects."

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