Tourism Ministry seeks clarification from 15 errant LOs

Published On: August 27, 2019 07:10 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, Aug 27: The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has sought clarifications from 15 Liaison Officers (LOs) who allegedly produced expedition reports without hitting the base camp when they were assigned as LOs for Everest expeditions in this year's spring season. Of the 37 LOs deployed for managing Everest expedition, 15 were found pocketing the government-provided funds without reaching the base camp and submitting the reports, as reported by the expedition companies.

Issuing separate letters to errant LOs, the Department of Tourism, the body under the ministry, has asked them to submit videos and photos to prove their presence at Everest Base Camp within 15 days. Officials at the department said the clarification was sought from the defiant liaison officers before taking action against them.
Republica had disclosed the names of the errant LOs. The report has shown only 22 of the 37 LOs deployed for this season had reached Everest Base Camp (EBC).

Among the LOs deployed for Everest expeditions, 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 EBC. They, however, received full payments for the assignments
Of the absentees, two LOs — Mangala Pradhan and Gnaesh Katuwal - later claimed that they had briefly visited EBC on a helicopter.

This was the first time ever in Nepal's mountaineering history that the Department formally admitted to anomalies that had long thrived in the shadow of Mt Everest: LOs producing reports even without setting their foot on EBC.
The number of absentee climbers deployed for other mountains is said to be even higher than what is revealed in case of Everest, according to informed ministry officials. The ministry is investigating the abence of LOs deployed for other mountains as well.

“LOs deployed for other mountains too have been asked to prove their presence by submitting convincing evidences — photos or videos,” said an official at the Department.
Tourism officials believe problems such as providing climbing certificates to climbers who haven't climbed the mountain in collusion with the expedition companies do exist.

Like in the previous years, some LOs are under scanner on the charge of recommending certificates even as the climbers had not climbed Everest.
LO Bishwa Bandhu Regmi who returned to Kathmandu from Namche after complaining of high altitude sickness took climbing updates through the expedition company's representatives stationed at the base camp.

He claimed that he briefed the Department over the phone based on the information provided to him by the expedition agency's representative on the ground.
When the agency's representatives returned to Kathmandu, Regmi, together with Yagya Raj Uprety of the agency, conducted a briefing at the Department. Out of 10 Everest hopefuls, two were absent, four returned from the Base Camp and four climbed Everest. They briefed that Vikas Rana, Shobha Banwala, Ankush Kasana, Khadija Moh Ali Turki Alblooshi, a climber from the UAE had successfully climbed Everest.

However, other climbers and Sherpas informed the Department that Rana, Banwala, Kasana and Ali Turki Alblooshi did not even made it to Camp IV. The Department then initiated an internal investigation. Since then the climbers are out of contact, ignoring the Department's request to come up with their summit photos.
The Department has now backtracked from its preparation to hand over summit certificates to the four climbers.

Like the three climbers from Haryana, expedition companies and LOs are under scrutiny for providing wrong information to the Department in order to award summit certificates to 'fake climbers'.
Another preliminary investigation has shown that Nahida Manjoor, a Kashmiri climber, received certificate of successful Everest summit by presenting a doctored photo. This has questioned the credibility of both the liaison officer, Police Inspector Dilli Bahadur Thapa, and expedition agency Snowy Horizon. Unconvinced by Nahida's summit claim, the Department had sought re-verification from the expedition company as well. Nahida was awarded summit certificate, based on her expedition company's recommendation.

In 2017, a couple from Indian Police Dinesh Rathod and his wife, Tarkeshwari, had received Everest summit certificate by presenting doctored photos.

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