SAF Winter Games for Livelihoods

 ( Published in Garhwal post on December 19, 2010)                

Of late a good number of stories have appeared in the media and press, the latest piece being a piece in the Garhwal Post itself, on various aspects related to the now well known Ski Resort at Auli. ( SAF Games & Destination Auli by Kedar Singh Fonia, Dec 9 2010 ). Nearly all news items have focused their attention either on the state of preparedness of the Winter Games Federation for holding the South Asian Winter Games during the ensuing winter months or the readiness or otherwise of the various facilities at the two venues where some of the events are going to take place. What has to be appreciated and acknowledged universally is the fact that notwithstanding various hiccups and glitches to which these Games have been witness and subjected to, Uttarakhand is on the thresh-hold of becoming a proud host to a major sports event, which with a little effort and commitment can easily become a regular feature in the entire South Asia. For the sports-lovers it really does not matter much when the much awaited event now actually takes place, what is of real consequence is that it is imminent and an arena to hold such a mega event exists in this state. By any standards this is not a small achievement and all those involved, right from the very beginning, deserve to be complimented for having contributed to realization of a major dream. This writer enthusiastically joins all those who are avidly looking forward to the day these Games would 'begin' and herald a new sports discipline in these parts of our country.

Real  Significance

The article provides an update to all those who have not visited the main arena of the forthcoming sporting event for some time past and it catalogues 'the clean shaven downhill slopes', 'newly stalled  ski-lifts' being readied to ferry visitors up and down, a 'newly constructed hostel, away from the ski zone', 'the feel of star comfort' as the recent add on-s. Hopefully the eyesore mentioned in the article will one day be annulled, as it is an illegality and violation of land-laws, as it violates the inalienable rights of the tribals. Incidently it is not the only hotel built illegally in Uttarakhand, there is yet another in Munsyari with similar violation of tribal land rights. Story of tribal lands acquired from the Marchas of Mana by the Army and later sold into some private hands, is yet to attract adequate media attention, and strict legal action by the district authorities. These stories go on to make Uttarakhand a state where one can successfully delay application of the rule of law as long as one has the capacity to delay proceedings in various courts of law. These are the instances which have sullied and seriously compromised the good image of this new state, and it is when attention of the authorities, at the highest level, has been drawn by senior civil servants of the state in writing ! However, this was an aside, and not the main objective behind writing this piece.  

In the latest write up  Kedar Singh Fonia mentions that 'the locals are keen to make this occasion a memorable one, in order to see that after a successful SAF Games, Auli would become a destination of the East for Skiing and Dehradun  for ice skating.'

Leveraging  SAF  for  Livelihoods

While Fonia has posed a timely query whether Auli would be able to leverage SAF Games for a higher objective, namely making Auli a destination for the South Asian countries to experience snow games at close quarters instead of visiting European countries at a much higher cost. This writer would suggest that to achieve this stated objective and triggering domestic interest a much better strategic thinking and plan will require to be implemented. The last time this writer had visited Auli, as Chief Secretary, perhaps towards the end of 2005, he had suggested that the entire complex of Auli ought to be put on a sustainable financial footing, with an year-round series of events. This objective could be met by covering and managing this Ski complex  under an institutional mechanism. The institutional mechanism could be called Uttarakhand Institute of Adventure Sports, which could be made an apex institution anchoring the entire range of adventure sports activities e.g. Rock-climbing, Rock and Snow-craft, trekking, various water sports, paraseiling etc. For all these adventure sports activities we have all the basic assets provided by the nature e.g. a range of world class 6,000 m plus peaks, white water stretches right from Kali in the east to Tons, with Rupin and Supin, in the extreme west, with an amazing range of similar white water runs in Ramganaga, Panar, Kosi, Gori and so on. For water sports like rafting, canoeing we have not only world class stretches of rivers in Kumaon and Garhwal, but huge water bodies like Nankmatta and four other water bodies, and even a massive artificial Canal system, fir for establishing a Canoeing and Kayaking events.  So we have Rocks, Snow-peaks, White water runs, huge natural and artificial water bodies and even man-made canals, which other state in India has such a world class collection of natural assets ?  

Other  Major  Events  of   Past

Lest one is left with an impression that this is the first major regional sports or adventure sports event taking place in Uttarakhand let the record be set right. The XVI National Kayaking and Canoeing Championships have been held in October 2005 on the Roorkee Canal system and this writer has had the privilege of distributing prizes at the IV South Asian Artificial Rock Climbing Championship in the same year, held at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttar Kashi. So we have had a string of adventure sports as well as sports events organized in the new state.

This begs the question why we have not built upon the National Kayaking and Canoeing National championships held in 2005 and converted the Roorkee Canl system into say an Institute for Kayaking and Canoeing soon thereafter. The civil authorities could have collaborated with the Army authorities in Roorkee to give to the state an excellent round the year facility to hone up the skills required in Kayaking and Canoeing. The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering ( NIM ) is a joint venture between the Ministry of Defence and Government of Uttarakhand now, in place of originally UP. While NIM has stolen many marches above the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering, the grand old man of Indian mountaineering, the fact remains that NIM has not contributed to the development of mountaineering in the host state as was expected from it. Perhaps, because NIM failed to get out of the clutches of Mountaineering Expeditions and the various courses run by it, this fact gave rise to establishment of first ITBP Training Institute at Auli/ Joshimath itself , and later the Himalayan Adventure Institute ( HAI ) by its former principal, SP Chamoli, near Kempty Falls. In the eastern parts of Uttarakhand late lamented Chandra Lal Shah Thulgaria, the doyen of innovators and founder of several innovative activities in the Kumaon region, established the Naini Tal Mountaineering Club.

The Naini Tal Mountainering Club has nurtured and nourished an extremely large number of climbers in Utarakhand and elsewhere and when this writer as its President organized its Silver Jubilee function in 1995 it was discovered that the many former trainees of the NMC had taken up trekking, mountaineering and tourism in the mountains as their avocation. This writer has met dozens of such former trainees of the Naini Tal Mountaineering Club. Almost all Everesters of Uttarakhand and other eminent mountaineers have had their connection either with the NMC or the NIM. That an early exposure to the delights of mountain climbing can lead to a whole range of livelihood opportunities has been very forcefully demonstrated by these two mountaineering institutions. However, the fact that the kill of mountaineering is not yet a recognized Olympic sport has really taken the shine out of this great sport. Artificial Rock Climbing is now a recognized sporting competition and now their are Championships organized for those events. Uttarakhand today has as many as three Artificial Rocks, one each at NIM, Uttar Kashi, another with HAI and the latest with the Naini Tal Mountaineering Club.   

Comparative Advantage

To say that events like mountaineering, artificial rock climbing, participating in trekking and related activities provide the youth of Uttarakhand a major comparative as they are exposed very early to such unique terrain, would amount to stating the obvious. However, nothing worthwhile seems to have come about of this obvious advantage and the state perhaps has somehow not been conscious of the back-stopping it was required to provide to this situation. Imagine a base of basic Mountaineering Clubs at each Block and Tehsil headquarters, slightly better equipped Mountaineering Club, with well trained mountaineers attached to these Clubs and these two tiers federated at the state level with the apex adventure sports Institute, named Uttarakhand Adventure Sports Institute; add to this Artificial Rocks at each district headquarters with facilities for training in this recognized sport. The existing NIM, HAI and Naini Tal Mountaineering club training the young mountaineers at an early age and conducting Courses like Search & Rescue courses, on an on-going basis.

Mountaineering with a Purpose

Search & Rescue operations, required at any time of the day, during any season have now become a major need of this accident and hazard prone state. Every day one hears of  one accident or the other and this is one aspect for which our state has now achieved a dubious reputation nation –wide. As the frequency of accidents is only going to rise upwards, what with increased connectivity, increased tourism and individual and public transport density this state has no option but to launch a major drive to train hundreds of volunteers and government functionaries into Search & Rescue operations. Not only police and public servants need to be trained but even common citizens, living along the accident prone locations have to be trained into te basics of Search & Rescue. In one of his articles this writer has mentioned that need for Search & Rescue capacity building has provided to the skill of mountaineering, hitherto considered just a sport, a solid rationale, a 'purpose'. Mountains are to be scaled, not just because they are there, as mountaineer Bonington had famously quipped but now for acquiring an important skill, namely undertaking search and rescue of  victims of a mountain accident !    

Mountaineering thus gets upgraded, in a highly utilitarian mode, from a mere personal hobby to a life saving skill, which calls for a steely resolve and superhuman determination, qualities which are equally beneficial for any other avocation. Bachendri Pal, that famous daughter of the soil, has been bringing batches of Tata groups'  managers to these parts of the country, for very many years now, instilling in them these very qualities plus a spirit of comraderie and leadership qualities. Certainly Uttarakhandi youth would greatly benefit from a similar exposure, were the state government willing to extend some basic necessary facilities from block stage upwards.

Sports Committees & adventure sports

Sports, like arts and music, have always been dependent on the patronage provided by the sovereign, represented by State today. During our times district magistrates not only headed district sports promotion committees but took personal interest in this field, organizing various championships, raising sports infrastructure, promoting indigenous sports like mul-khamb, gada, mudgar and of course, wrestling. Police was traditionally responsible for organizing major wrestling and gymnastic events in the district. I remember having raised pucca spectators' pavalions for the Varanasi Sigra Sports stadium, leveraging holding of first ever Santosh Trophy Football tournament in UP, or organizing cycle marathons between Jaunpur to Varanasi, Varanasi to Bhadoi and so on. Raj Bhargava, as Chief Secretary, took personal interests in almost all sports activities, lending support to district magistrates in promoting sports ambience in districts. Once district administration gets involved it triggers a healthy competition among the well off sections of the society in raising cash and kind prizes for the winners, volunteers for organizing these events, thus making these events a collaborative effort – these also keep the youth engaged in constructive activities, in turn bringing people closer to administration. Of late priorities of district administration seem to have under gone a major change, much to the detriment of sports in general. One hardly sees district officials taking lead in promoting sports and sportspersons in their districts.   

Adventure Sports Agenda for Uttarakhand  

Auli SAF Winter Games thus need to be fully leveraged for institutionalizing the adventure sports, even proper sports, structure in the state, right from the development block level to the state level. Auli Ski Complex should be considered for being placed under the control of an institute, Uttarakhand Institute of Adventure Sports ( UIAS), at Auli, which should be properly manned by professionals who have done well in their respective fields. Uttarakhand is well known for having provided to the country the maximum number of Everesters and coaches. We already have in place nine Adventure Sports Officers and two OSD Adventure Sports, one each at Uttar Kashi and Almora. This UIAS could function as an umbrella  organization for the three Mountaineering Institutions already functioning in the state, additionally each district headquarters could be provided with some government land and a Mountaineering Club each, assisted by Adventure Sports Officers. White – water related activities could be anchored in a Water Sports Centre, at New Tehri, linking various water bodies / lakes at Naini Tal, Nanakmutta and Canals at Roorkee. Water Rafting is already an established economic activity in the state providing livelihood opportunities to hundreds of youth, tour operators, trained rafters, companies organizing equipment and so on. Another Water Sports Centre for Kayaking & Canoeing could be established at Roorkee with the help of Bengal Engineers Corps and Uttarakhand Sub-Area office, Dehradun. Institutionalization of adventure sports would also ensure developing institutional memory for future, co-ordination among various stake-holders and reminding the State of its responsibility towards promotion of sports, from time to time. This would avoid uncertainties in holding sports events, ensure over-all strengthening of sports culture and structure in this new state. and help-state emerge as a front-ranking sports state in the country.     

Search & Rescue Courses conducted by the three Mountaineering institutions are quite up to the mark and have been appreciated for their quality; these could be mainstreamed on a very large scale with their help and new Mountaineering Clubs suggested for each district headquarter. A large number of individuals and village groups trained in standard search and rescue skills will also prove to be a big help to the district administration, in the events of accidents and natural disaster. NIM, Uttar Kashi has to re-visit its role and responsibility in the light of the huge training requirement both in mountaineering, search and rescue and in mountain guide courses. Mountain Guide courses properly designed and administered will have to be so dovetailed with a major rural-tourism project, using both private and public infrastructure, in such a way that the amazing bio-diversity, natural beauty and world class destinations are so used that these generate massive livelihood opportunities in management, transport, tour guide and allied activities. If the forthcoming SAF Games are able to bring in even a fraction of what has been outlined above they would be not only remembered for ushering in a new age in adventure sports but do for Uttarakhand what wrestling and boxing have been able to do for Haryana in the Commonwealth Games ; emergence of yet another sporting state in the country.   



R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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