Mount Everest, the icon for which people in the world know this Himalayan republic, received bad press, both at home and abroad in June this year. Pictures of mountaineers jostling to reach the summit along the terribly narrow and congested trail went viral on social media. The world saw Everest for what it is not: the source of sorrow for adventure enthusiasts who flock to Nepal to see or climb the highest peak and get life-time experience. When 11 climbers died on Everest this past season (without major calamities such as avalanche), it added to bad publicity. An investigative report published in Republica on Monday has found that traffic jams could have been avoided, and perhaps casualties too, if Nepali authorities had paid proper attention to check whether officials deployed to take care of mountaineers and manage the traffic along the route to the world’s highest peak had committed dereliction of duty.
The report has revealed some shocking facts. A number of actors—from liaison officers (LOs) to Department of Tourism under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation to expedition companies to the bureaucrats themselves— were involved in the scam that contributed to defamation of Everest. First, only 22 out of 37 LOs deployed for Everest Base Camp (EBC) reached there— some made only up to Namche and others simply stayed at their homes in Kathmandu. Their absence in EBC resulted in breach of the rule that makes it mandatory for summiteers to bring eight kilograms of garbage while returning to EBC. Egregiously, these LOs who never made to EBC, however, claimed and received perks and allowances from expedition companies as agreed between the Department and companies. Equally disturbing is the fact that these LOs produced reports without setting their foot on EBC. This, again, is the result of collusion among ministry officials and politicians. Since being an LO brings handsome allowance (an LO deployed at EBC is paid minimum 2,000 US dollars) officials compete to get their names included as LO. Expedition companies take advantage from absence of LOs at the base camp for it saves them extra cost of setting up tents and making travel arrangements. The LOs are even found to have made recommendation for issuing certificates to the climbers who never made it to the top.
This level of carelessness by LOs and other bureaucrats has put Nepal in a difficult situation. For one, apparently not informed about the wrongdoings of LOs and others, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli attributed the deaths on Everest to traffic jam during his BBC interview in June. He was criticized for this rather callous remark. Also the practice of issuing certificate to fake climbers has established terrible precedent in Nepal’s mountaineering history. Together, these wrongdoings have tarnished the image of Everest and Nepal. The government has formed a committee to investigate the matter and come up with recommendations for policy, procedural, legal and structural changes. This does not help correct the damage done to reputation of Everest. The government should punish the LOs, expedition companies and all those who contributed to Everest defamation. This is all the more important now because we are nearing Visit Nepal 2020 for which Nepal aims to bring millions of tourists from across the world. Nepal needs to send the message that Nepal’s tourism officials and expedition companies play by rules, provide the best hospitality, facilitate mountaineering in the best way and ensure safety of the climbers. And that the government books those who willfully fail on this duty. It is clear who contributed to the mess in Everest and how. They should not be spared.