Should VHP’s demand of banning water sports in Rishikesh be mulled over?

Should VHP’s demand of banning water sports in Rishikesh be mulled over? Rishikesh, the place of spiritual importance as well as a dream destination for every water sports aficionado residing in Northern India, is in trouble. The conformist group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) wants to put a ban on all water adventure activities in Rishikesh because “young people of both sexes come to these rafting camps, mingle, drink and indulge in objectionable activities on the banks of the holy river, where sadhus and saints gather to meditate.”

And this is not the first time when VHP, or shall we say the purported progressive reform party, has shown up their irrational side. Earlier they had screened remonstration against non-Hindus entering into holy city Kashi; objected to the use of loud speakers in mosques; and had issues with increasing consumption of Chinese products in the country. And this time around, they are asking the Uttarakhand state government to ban water sports in Rishikesh; something which facilitates the state with a huge chunk of its income.

The big question that arises now is: Is VHP’s demand really valid? We tried to find out.

Water Sports: What it offers to the state?
No one can deny that Uttarakhand’s chief source of earning is Tourism and nothing else. The state is a large contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has also been providing employment at a large scale. As per the report published by Government Tourism Department, the state, in 2011-12 granted line of business to 11.49% of total employment of the country. Foreign tourist arrival observed a jump of 5.9% in 2013. Not just this, but a lift of 14% in the foreign exchange earnings were also observed in the same year. This clearly goes on to prove the kind of positive financial impact water sports activities in Uttarakhand have on national GDP.

And it would have continued to do so if the newly-crafted state of Uttarakhand, which showed- a mounting graph of growth under the tourism business sector, hadn’t witnessed a terrible catastrophe two years ago. The state is currently on its way to regain its strengths (which is tourism and water sports), but the current criticism and demands by VHP will act as an inhibitor.

Two sides of VHP’s claims
While the liberal in us is finding it tough to accept the ban and the claims that VHP is making, the practical person in us is seeing the other side of the coin as well, which is: the wrongdoings and illegal activities that are taking place in the state under the veil of water sports. We are referring to illegal drug trafficking, illegal alcohol consumption, and the crimes people commit under the impact of alcohol and drugs. These are some of the issues, which everyone is aware of, but no strong action has been taken on it yet. When we discussed the matter with few tourists who visited Rishikesh recently, especially those who preferred sports activities, acknowledged that alcohol consumption on the banks of Ganges is being looked upon as an amusing activity by most of them. Not just this, illicit brokers supplying drugs to tourists in the state are also a dark reality.

Ban is not the SOLUTION
When it comes to finding solutions to the problems that are currently marring the state’s reputation, imposing a ban on a sports activity which stands for fun as well as adds to the state’s GDP is not an intelligent thing to do. Why can’t the state government come up with few check points to ensure that this highly lucrative business doesn’t get hit. For instance, we think that the Uttarakhand government can consider this two-pronged strategy for their own benefit:

1. Put a security check on local residents and dealers involved in illicit drug trading.
2. Keep a close track on unauthorized rafting camps, which promote such activities and defame the holy city. A random audit check is a feasible and effective idea to begin with.

However, at the same time, even citizens and tourists should behave responsibly and stay away from illegal activities; law and order is for their own benefit, isn’t it?

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