KATHMANDU: A cock-and-bull story of an Indian couple, who morphed photographs to claim their successful ascent of Mt Everest in the last spring season, has exposed the blatant lies of Himalayan proportion on part of Nepali government officials deputed to monitor the mountaineering expeditions.
The Himalayan Times’ investigation found out that nearly 50 per cent of the liaison officers never reached the Everest base camp to facilitate the world climbers representing 33 teams this season. The majority of LOs who trekked to the height of 5,300 metres, on the other hand, vanished within minutes after taking a few shots for their keepsake and social media bragging.
At least 15 government officers recommended Everest summit certificates to expedition members without going to the base camp in the climbing season that recorded more than 450 summits on Mt Everest, according to a detailed report prepared by the base camp officials.
Among 33 officers, ranging from non-gazetted first class to undersecretary position, who were assigned to monitor activities of the Everest expeditions, only 17 made it to the base camp, the report adds.
While necessary documents at the Department of Tourism to award summit certificates to expedition members, all LOs claimed of having stayed at the base camp for over one to three weeks in order to prohibit the expedition teams or their members from indulging in any unauthorised activities. The base camp record obtained by this daily, however, revealed that only six of them had camped there for a week or more.
Six officers returned from the base camp the same day of their arrival after taking a few photos that they later showed off on Facebook while the rest stayed with the base camp workers for two to four days, the record states.
Ganesh Prasad Timsina, an officer at Kakarvitta tourism Office, recommended summit certificates to Dinesh Chandrakant Rathod and his wife Tarkeshwari Chandrakant Bhelerao, both police constables from Maharashtra, approving their morphed photos, had also left the base camp on June 14, the same day of his arrival. This record contradicts with his claim of staying at the base camp for 13 days from May 3.
“It’s not just Timsina. Members of at least 16 teams on Mt Everest expedition and seven others on Mt Lhotse and Mt Nuptse never got to see their LOs at base camp this season,” a base camp manager said. According to him, an official from the DoT, three security personnel and two from Everest Summiteers Association were the only people who stayed at the base camp for over a week.
“Most of the expedition teams were able to meet their LOs either during the period of pre-briefing or debriefing.”
The LOs who charged each Everest expedition nearly USD 3,000 to provide necessary support to the climbers of the respective team have been making mockery of the Tourism Act, which clearly states that every officer must accompany the team for the period commencing from the date of departure for mountaineering expedition to the date of arriving after completion of mountaineering.
“LOs must stay in the base camp during the mountaineering expedition programme,” the Regulation says, “All LOs must be certified by the government recognised physician having physically able to go up to the base camp of the related mountain.”
While each expedition aiming to climb Nepali mountains above 6,500 metres needs a liaison officer during the entire mountaineering period, a DoT official shared that there was always an unhealthy competition among the government officials as most of them knocked the doors of ministers, leaders and even the Prime Minister to get listed in the LO roster.
“As each expedition shall have to provide with the facilities for the Liaison Officer deputed for accompanying the team, being an LO is by luck not by performance,” the official said.
Non-gazetted first class or above class officers of civil service, Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police officials corresponding to the level of civil service gazetted third class, and Nepali mountaineers who have successfully climbed Mt Everest and recommended by the mountaineering association designated by the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation are eligible to become liaison officers.
Expedition organising companies also agreed that the LOs were more of burden to them as they failed to act as per the existing regulations. “But, we can’t say anything against them,” an owner of a trekking company said. No one can check fraudulent activities on mountains unless the government officers stopped playing a foul,” he opined.
“These facts are true as well as alarming,” DoT’s Director General Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal admits. There was a need to review the existing procedures of deploying LOs, he said, adding the DoT would revise the Tourism Act soon to make LOs more accountable.
The existing Tourism Act says the Ministry may cancel travel order and may cause to return the facilities received as per its Regulation by the Liaison Officer, if he/she do not accompany with the mountaineering expedition team.
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Functions, Duties and Rights of Liaison Officer As Per the Tourism Act:
- To stay in the base camp during the mountaineering expedition programme
- To try to solve problem which may be caused to the mountaineering expedition team
- To inspect or monitor the weight of load which may be carried out by the worker involved with the mountaineering expedition team
- To communicate the progress of mountaineering expedition and to inform the message of accident if any happened by the fastest means to the Ministry
- To make efforts not to happen any conflict or dispute keeping in discipline to the headman, mountain guide and worker
- To try to settle down the conflict or any other undesirable incident between any member of the mountaineering expedition team and local people or headman, guide or worker as well as to initiate for necessary action with the help of nearest Police post, District Administration Office or Local Bodies if it is not possible to settle down the case by him/herself
- To carry out or initiate to carry the necessary work relating to environmental cleanness and garbage management
- To prohibit the team or its members from indulging in any unauthorized mountaineering expedition and to notify such incident to the Ministry immediately
- To send its report to the Ministry as soon as possible in the event of loss of walkie-talkies, wireless sets, and other equipment used by the mountaineering expedition team or in the event of death or disabilities cause to a member of the mountaineering expedition team, headman, guide, or worker due to an accident or in the event of commission or likely to commission any serious crime
- To conduct as an interpreter for the member of the mountaineering expedition team and other person with them
- To advise the leader of the mountaineering expedition team about the selection of place for mountaineering camp
- To send the list of the worker and other person involved in the mountaineering expedition team after certifying by the leader
- To receive the rare and historical objects which may be found by the mountaineering expedition team and handover safely in the place as prescribed by Government of Nepal
- To function as per the instruction of the Ministry