A most distressing daily experience is reading about the number of accidental drownings that take place at Uttarakhand’s many water tourism and pilgrimage sites. This is a clear indication that management and monitoring at this level by the district and tourism authorities is minimal, if not altogether absent. Are lives not precious enough for adequate measures to be taken to inform, warn and protect the visitors of the dangers? The least that can be done as a first step is to set up signboards prominently warning against the dangers, as also informing about precautions to be taken. The sites should be identified and such signboards set up within a stipulated period of time, say a month.
Also, in a state where there is considerable unemployment, lifeguards should be trained and deployed to save those who do fall into the water. Local communities, too, should be made aware of their responsibility to, first, advise visitors on the precautions, and, also, to practice quick rescue measures when needed. Equipment such as boats and life-jackets should also be made available. There are many ingenious personal flotation devices available that can be rented to tourists, or sold in such areas. They are not cumbersome and can help people survive for the crucial period of time before being rescued. There is also simple advice that can be given to even those who know how to swim about how to cope with swiftly moving waters – such as not resisting the flow and, instead, gently floating with it towards the riverbank.
Among the reasons such steps have not been taken are lack of local involvement, as well as a bureaucratic approach in the departments concerned. The media should also, from time to time, rate each destination on the basis of safety factors. Those destinations that wish to get ahead of others would naturally feel pressured to improve conditions to avoid the negative publicity. Reporting of drowning incidents and successful rescues should also carry details of what went wrong and what was done right. The host communities would, thus, continue to be sensitised and informed about their responsibilities. The habit of leaving everything to the civil police is not a good one. It is also the responsibility of the government to make adequate resources available for this task – it will prove economical in the long run. It will also give Uttarakhand a good reputation among all those planning to visit.