After trying to malign reputation of IH during the last season of Chadar, All Ladakh Tour Operators Association (ALTOA) disrupted the Stok Kangri treks again this year in Ladakh. In response to this nuisance the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Leh-Ladakh issued an order against ALTOA.
Stok Kangri season of 2014 began with full gusto on July 12th this year. As the batches progressed our staff started noticing a stir against Indiahikes that was initiated by ALTOA. The local operators began sending feelers that ALTOA isn’t in favour of Indiahikes working in the Ladakh region. Soon, Indiahikes staff was called to ALTOA office to apologise for the content posted against ALTOA on our website. Apart from this ALTOA also demanded a ‘donation’ amount of Rs 50,000/- if we wanted to run our treks in ‘their’ region.
Indiahikes refused to give in to the unlawful demands of ALTOA. As a result the August 9th batch of 20 trekkers that was set to begin trek on August 10th was stopped by officials of ALTOA led by their president Wangchuk and General Secretary Aungchuk while on their way to Shang – first camp site for Stok Kangri. Our trek leaders Soumya Jyoti Mitra and Saranbir Singh were manhandled by the errant association when Indiahikes decided to stand up against them. The batch, that also consisted of female trekkers, was understandably shocked at the way locals were treating tourists in this region. After stalling the batch for a considerable while ALTOA agreed to permit the group to trek on the condition that our trek leaders will visit their office for a meeting the next day.
During the meeting ALTOA again demanded a ‘donation’ of Rs 50,000 from Indiahikes and a penalty of Rs 15,000 from our local agent Luna Agency for letting us function in Ladakh. We were appalled. There was no basis to this donation or penalty. Clearly, it was extortion that ALTOA was demanding for letting us function in our own country. We refused, again.
As a result, the batch that was harassed at Shang again ‘gheraoed’ on their way back at Stok Village. ALTOA President Wangchuk started lecturing everyone present against Indiahikes and even requested them to join a rally against us. Our trekkers refused. And our vehicles were adorned with defamatory posters.
We still stood strong on our grounds and against the unlawful demands of ALTOA when on August 18th the owner of The Auspicious Hotel, where our trekkers and staff were housed, received a threat from ALTOA president. Manager Vishal Redhu was threatened by ALTOA that if Indiahikes is not asked to vacate their premises, the hotel property would be damaged.
It was clear that ALTOA was unhappy at the way Indiahikes had made its presence felt in Leh-Ladakh. Moreover, we as Indiahikes also refused to pay a trekking fees of Rs 400 per trekker slapped on trekking groups by ALTOA. This fees has no basis and is not issued by the government. It was being pocketed by the errant private association for unclear reasons. Any group refusing the pay this fees was threatened of bodily harm. We decided to put a foot down on this illicit extortion of money that has been going on unchecked for so long. And ALTOA tried its best to stop us unlawfully by using force.
A police complained had to be filed. But ALTOA saw to it that even that was made difficult for us. And to our dismay the SHO decided to side with the criminal practices of ALTOA and refused to file an FIR against them. We were even asked by the police to make a ‘compromise’ and patch up with ALTOA.
We then decided to take it to the next level and got our advocate Kashi Vishweshwar from Delhi to help us with the case. Co-owners Arjun Majumdar and Sandhya Chandrashekharayya along with advocate Kashi presented the case before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Leh-Ladakh. And Magistrate Pawan Kumar Sharma has passed an order against the criminal doings of ALTOA on August 10, 2014.
Excerpt from Magistrate’s order:
“I am shocked that the complainant who is also an Indian national has been forced to go through mental agony and tortured for more than 15 days and the government agencies including police have slept over the matter. It appears to me that the police is in connivance with the ALTOA and it’s members. It is shocking to find that a private tour operator’s association has demanded Rs 50,000/- by issuing a written letter/order against the complainant and the police did not take cognizance of the matter. The situation appears to be lawlessness, the tourist who are very much Indian nationals are being forced by extortion, bribe and illegal money for travelling to this part of the country and the Govt. agencies are deliberately closing their eyes. It is more surprising and painful to note that Ladakh is a place known for its tourism and if such type of incidents are allowed to continue it will give a bad name to the state of J & K where tourism is one of the prime attraction to the public. The matter is very serious and involves multiple complications but nevertheless the state agencies in general and police in particular are bound to protect the rights of citizens which has not been done in this case.”
A copy of the Magistrate’s order has been given at the end of this article.
A citizen of India has the fundamental right to carry out occupation/trade in any part of this country. It is also the fundamental right of an Indian citizen to be able to move anywhere in the country. The fact that a private organization can attempt to unlawfully take the right away from a trekker, an Indian citizen, and be backed by the police of our country is worrisome. We would request all to stand up against such unlawful practices.
Indiahikes will stand ground and fight ALTOA till we are successful in putting an end to their mis-dealings in Leh-Ladakh. As directed in the Magistrate’s Order we await police action on this case.
Page 1 of Magistrate’s Order
Page 2 of Magistrate’s Order
Page 3 of Magistrate’s Order