By: Satyakam Bharti
The Himachal Pradesh tourism department may have decided not to hold paragliding competition (fondly called pre-world cup) at Bir-Billing in Kangra district this year, but that would certainly not leave the place desolate. Local paragliders have anyway decided to organize the event from November 5 and, in doing so they have opened up the Pandora’s Box of what ails the adventure sport in the state that once promised to catapult Himachal to the world stage. Flyers from across the world know well that Billing is among the best take-off sites and therefore make it sure that they include it in their itinerary, even if there’s no competition. The `Thermal Devta’ would take care of Billing and fliers who visit the place so religiously year after year as most of them hardly ever care to participate in such event, instead preferring to fly like a free bird unmindful of any rules and regulations. But what needs to be worried about is the future of the adventure sport in the state as a face-off between local associations and the government and the latter’s insistence on playing a spoilsport has ensured that the sport has not yet had a take-off even after three decades of a paragliding enthusiast discovering Bir-Billing.
In a latest face-off, the government recently announced that the annual pre-world cup would not be held this year as the place is being developed to hold bigger events, while the Billing Paragliding Association (BPA) has threatened to knock the court’s doors if the government does not allow it to hold the event. While the government has alleged that BPA has not registered with the Aero Sports Club of India and therefore cannot hold the event, the association claims it already has the approval of PWCA, an international paragliding body, and therefore does not require approval from ASCI. While the government may not be prepared to take risk following high court directive on ensuring safety measures in the sport, the local paragliders are definitely seeing it as a threat to their livelihood.
The basic problem lies in identifying and defining the roles and responsibilities of people and institutions involved in managing the sport in the state as well as country. While there is too much confusion regarding who should govern the sport in the country, even within the state there are several interest groups always at conflict with each other. Therefore, whenever someone makes an effort to streamline procedures there are always people who see it as an attack on their interests and livelihood. Therefore, we see a number of locals running their individual training programmers and also commercial flights but no one is ready to agree on setting safety and other standards.
Undoubtedly, paragliding his given wing to hundreds of local youths who could otherwise never have dreamt of flying, but a greater reality is that they are incapable of organisational skills required to run a professional sports body and hold mega events. Those from other parts of the country, who do have resources, have simply given up hope and care the least about cleaning up the mess.
But the biggest culprit undoubtedly has been the tourism department, which failed to keep its promises. Bureaucratic meddling and indifference has ensured frustration among the paragliders, who have now lost trust in all initiatives taken up by the government. While subsequent governments have made tall announcements, not much has moved on the ground. The government has been promising required infrastructure for the last 10 years at least, but does not know where to start. Meanwhile, its initiative to be the organiser of the pre-world cup too did not bear fruit as participants showed frustration over red-tapism. While individuals within the government may have tried to do their best, the system of bureaucratic functioning itself dees not allow much scope for efficiency in managing something like adventure sports.
But there is still a silver lining. Recently a private company managed to discover a new take-off site in Sirmaur district, and trials are on to prove the technical feasibility of carrying out parasailing from the place. This means that entrepreneurs are aware of the business viability of running a paragliding site and are therefore ready to invest money and resources. This suggests that instead of groping in the dark, the government should openly invite professional firms to run paragliding heavens in the state as `special economic zones’ (if these words still hold any meaning) to run them as composite tourism sites offering a variety of adventure activities as well as related businesses. But here too, time is running out and if the government again sulks in taking quick decisions, Himachal may vanish from the paragliding map for ever.