KATHMANDU, Aug 15: In what can been seen as a crackdown on errant liaison officers (LOs) attached to mountaineering expeditions, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has announced that it is to disqualify some LOs for life for not fulfilling their assigned responsibilities.
The ministry announced the measure after it emerged that some LOs had filed their reports to the ministry without even reaching base camp. “Some LOs deployed to the expeditions didn't even turn up at base camp. Now, they are disqualified for ever for liaison work,” said Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai.
Minister Bhattarai made the announcement after receiving the recommendations prepared by a study team on policy and legal, structural and procedural measures for making Everest climbing safer.
An internal investigation carried out by the Department of Tourism showed that only 22 out of 37 LOs deployed to Everest for this climbing season had reached Everest Base Camp . Two of them later claimed that they briefly visited base camp by helicopter.
This is the first time that the department has formally admitted to anomalies that have long thrived in the shadow of Everest, officials said.
Among the LOs deployed to Everest, Lekha Paneru, Bina Shrestha, Santosh Moktan, Humnath Pandey, Laxmi Sharma, Gopal Bhandari, Punya Prasad Dhakal, Chandra Prasad Adhikari, Tirtha Raj Chapagai, Pralhad Pudasaini, Kamal Prasad Mishra and Rajendra K. Shrestha submitted their reports without reaching base camp. They, however, received the full perks and benefits of their assignment.
The number of absentee LOs is said to be even higher at the other Himalayan mountains, according to ministry officials. The ministry is investigating this as well.
Tourism officials also said climbers were provided successful climb certificates even if they had not made it to the summit and this was made possible through the collusion of the climbing expedition companies.
As in previous years, some LOs are under the scanner on suspicion of recommending such fake climb certificates.
LO Bishwa Bandhu Regmi returned to Kathmandu from Namche after complaining of altitude sickness and he took climbing updates through the expedition company representatives stationed at base camp.
He claimed that he briefed the department over the phone on the basis of information provided him by the expedition company representative in the field.
When the company representatives returned to Kathmandu, Regmi, along with the company's Yagya Raj Uprety , conducted a debriefing at the department. Out of 10 climbers who had set out for Everest and were to be debriefed, two were absent, four had turned back from base camp and four actually reached the summit of Everest, according to Regmi and Uprety. They were told Vikas Rana, Shobha Banwala, Ankush Kasana and Ali Turki Alblooshi of India and Khadija Moh, a climber from the UAE, had reached the top of Everest.
However, other climbers and the Sherpas involved informed the department that Rana, Banwala, Kasana and Ali Turki Alblooshi did not even reach Camp IV. The department then initiated an internal investigation. Since then the climbers have been out of contact and have not come up with their summit photos as requested by the department.
The department has now halted preparations to hand over summit certificates to the four climbers.
Expedition companies and LOs are under scrutiny for providing wrong information to the department in order to facilitate the summit certificates .
Another preliminary investigation has shown that Nahida Manjoor, a Kashmiri climber, received his Everest climb certificate by presenting a doctored photo. This has raised a question over the credibility of the liaison officer, expedition company Snowy Horizon and Dilli Bahadur Thapa, a police inspector. Unconvinced by Manjoor's summit claim, the department had sought re-verification from the expedition company as well. She was awarded her certificate on the basis of the expedition company's recommendation.
In 2017, Dinesh Rathod and his wife Tarkeshwari, both of the Indian police, had received their Everest summit certificate on the strength of doctored photos.Meanwhile, in order to make expeditions safer, the ministry is preparing to mobilize its LOs in an integrated fashion.“A group of LOs comprising a medical professional, security personnel, mountaineers and civil servants will be mobilized to the base camps and the ministry will monitor their activities,” said Ghanshyam Upadhyay, a joint-secretary who led the study team.