Meghalaya Tourism: Greed at what cost? by Patricia Mukhim
It is said that accidents happen but they can be prevented with a little care and caution. The death of young and promising 18 year old Trisha Sen Bhattacharya in a drowning accident at the Krang Shuri lake surrounding the breathtakingly glorious waterfall is something that could have been prevented.
Trisha's heart-broken mother, Monideepa Sen who was also part of the entourage of seven people on the makeshift bamboo raft said , "There will be many if's and buts for a long time. Right now I am not yet reconciled to the fact that I will not see her anymore.Suddenly this house feels so big and empty without her vibrant laughter and her feisty spirit."
It's the most painful experience for a mother to see her daughter die. But, its heart wrenching for a mother to watch her daughter shout out for help and not to be able to reach out to her in the swirling waters, as she too struggles to reach to safety. Yes the, "what ifs" will continue to haunt
Monideepa Sen. "There was a walkway all round the Krang Suri waterfall. We need not have got into the rickety raft. Why did we do it?" Monideepa asks herself as she weeps inconsolably.
As friends and neighbours pour in to express their grief and sympathy, they hug the weary Monideepa and she weeps afresh. But no tears in the world will ease the pain.. Not in a long time.
That said, the questions that one should be asking is : How safe are the tourist destinations of Meghalaya? These destinations look very enticing on YouTube. The Krang Shuri falls are a sight to behold! Yet beneath the sheer beauty lurks danger.
The waterfall creates its own underground currents which could very well rock a boat away from its course, more so, if the person steering the boat/raft is not an expert. And from the description given by the survivors of the boat tragedy, the oarsman was the first to jump to safety after the raft capsized.Monideepa and the others inside the water were wise to shut their mouths and nose so as not to swallow water. They were thus able to float to the surface and somehow find straws to cling to and climb up to safety. Trisha could not do so… She probably panicked and with no rescuers around save the oarsman, who was himself ill prepared, Trisha sank to the bottom of the lake. By the time the other villagers arrived to pull her out she was gone…her still body no longer breathing.
Yet, she might have survived if there were trained resuscitators to give her cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) but as luck would have there was no trained personnel around. By the time Trisha was taken to Nongtalang Community Health Centre she was no more.
This tragic incident puts a question mark on the manner in which tourism is being hard-sold in Meghalaya. The Deputy Commissioner, West Khasi Hills, Arunkumar Kembhavi said on his Facebook post that greed for a few hundred rupees makes the tour operators throw caution to the winds. But the counter question is – why did the District Administration
allow the raft/boat to be operated without primary safety measures in place?
The Krang Shuri destination is run by a private party. According to Trisha's mother the DC said that the tour operator had gone to Shillong that day to buy life jackets and other safety equipments. Isn't it ironic that boating was allowed even before the protective gear could be procured and the safety protocols were put in place? Someone has
to be held accountable for the death of Trisha? Who will that person be?
Meghalaya is promoting tourism of an irresponsible kind. There are many tour operators who are not even registered with the Government. It's a free for all here. And when accidents such as the one of January 19, happen, no one is held accountable. Safety aside,tourism here means turning every viewpoint into a sort of flea market where garbage is discarded right where the greedy hawkers set up shop. The Umiam
Viewpoint is a case in point. Another sore point is that there are too many claimant to such tourist spots and destinations. The Umiam Viewpoint is claimed by the Dorbar Shnong of Mawiong but they hardly exercise any supervision. Hence a viewpoint which should attract tourists becomes an excuse for the local population to earn a livelihood by polluting the place. And no one can say a thing!
Clearly the Tourism Department has not got its act together. There should be clear guidelines on how tourist destinations are to be run, maintained and operated especially if the promoters also sell adventure sports. If a lookout point in Mawlynnong which again is a ladder of rickety bamboo and can only hold four people at a time is made to
hold eight or ten people because of the lack of supervision, what happens if it collapses and people land with a thump on the ground and break their spines? Yet the do's and don'ts are not strictly implemented by the village communities. Everywhere greed has overtaken caution. How long can this carry on?
Will the Tourism Department pull up its socks and insist on more stringent rules to be complied by tour operators? Since the Chief Minister of the state himself heads this Department, is he going to take a call after Thursday's fatal accident – an accident that need not have resulted in death?
-The Writer, Patricia Mukhim is a Padmashree Awardee and the Editor of The Shillong Times. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org