Indian couple controversy exposes flaws in Everest climb certification

Published On: July 5, 2016 03:10 AM NPT By: Sagar Ghimire  | @sagarghi

KATHMANDU, July 5: The controversy over an Indian couple allegedly doctoring photos to get a certificate for successfully scaling  Mt Everest has exposed real flaws in the process of issuing such certificates to climbers.

The Department of Tourism (DoT) issues the certificates to summiteers on the basis of photos taken on the peak and the reports of the expedition team leader and the liaison officer from DoT. But the process leaves plenty of room for manipulation, say experts.

"The process of acquiring the summit certificate is riddled with flaws. If you had applied for the Everest summit and later submitted photos showing that you were atop the peak, regardless of whether the photos are genuine or fake, you will get your summit certificate," said a senior mountaineer, who requested anonymity as he did not wish to jeopardize his relations with DoT.

"A liaison officer, who is based at base camp, cannot really verify whether a climber actually conquered the summit, and the team leader is part of your own expedition. So there is a lot of room for manipulation to get the summit certificate," the mountaineer added.

Admitting loopholes in the process, Sudharshan Prasad Dhakal, director general at DoT, said recent complaints about photo tampering had underlined the need to review the process of issuing the summit certificates.

"We issue the certificates on the basis of reports of the expedition team leader and our liaison officer at base camp as well as photos of the climber atop the peak. Since the liaison officer remains at base camp, it is only the photos from the climber and the report of the expedition leader that constitute the basis for deciding to issue the certificate," said Dhakal.

He said the department would review the procedure to plug such loopholes.

"It's naive to think that an ordinary individual at DoT would be able to discern any tampering with the photos with the naked eye. We will review the procedure to include further requirements for verification to certify that a climber has in fact scaled Everest," he added.

Meanwhile, DoT has said that it is probing complaints that the Indian couple, who claimed to have recorded their climb to the summit, doctored their photos to acquire their certificate.

 Dinesh and Tarakeshwari Rathod, both constables in the Maharashtra Police, claimed that they summitted Everest this spring season, but according to news reports they 'morphed' the photos of their Everest climb that they submitted to DoT.

"We are investigating  the matter following complaints that the couple tampered the photo evidence to get the summit certificate. We have sought clarifications from the company that organized their expedition and from Sherpas who guided the couple," said Dhakal. "If it is proved that the photos were indeed tampered, action will be taken as per the law, which includes a ban on entry for the violators for five years and a 10-year ban on mountaineering in Nepal," he said.

Though DoT is investigating the issue, the operator of the Indian couple's Everest expedition said  it has concluded that the couple misled the expedition organizer to obtain the certificate.

"Following the news reports, I have been making phone calls to them to clarify the issue. I asked them to send me a digital copy of the photos to substantiate their claim or come to Nepal to defend their position," Mohan Lamsal, managing director of Makalu Adventure, the company that operated the expedition, told Republica.

"However, the way they have been dragging their feet leds us to conclude that they did indeed tamper the photos," added Lamsal. He also said that two Sherpas who were part of the expedition and who earlier verified the climb, are also out of contact. The Rathod couple could not be contacted immediately for their comment.

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