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State to keep a tight rein on nature camps for children

Organisers may have to get registered, follow guidelines for safety of kids

The State Children Commission and Ministry of Child Welfare is likely to soon issue a set of guidelines for organisers of nature camps for children and urge them to get registered. This has come after several social activists recently highlighted the unkempt conditions and gruelling sessions children are put through in camps conducted by numerous private organisations that mainly operate from the city and Mumbai.

The activists alleged that such camps, which are carried out in jungles, had become a commercial activity and children aged between 10 and 15 were invited to attend. "Even though the organisers charge about Rs 3,000, such camps lack basic sanitation and children are made to use trenches as toilets, are served ordinary tap water and forced to sleep in a tent without mosquito nets," said Jitendra Gupta, activist and trekker. "We have also noticed that the camps subject minors to rock climbing, rappelling, night trekking, among others, which could be dangerous."

He said these camps were generally organised during Diwali and Christmas vacations. The activists also said the organisations do not have residential camps as the children are taken to remote areas like Rajgad or Torna where there are no medical facilities or transport available. They said this could prove fatal for children in case of any accident or snake bite.

"Some people get their names associated with environmental organisations and conduct private camps for children who are forced to attend them by their parents. There have been many cases in the past but most of the times they have not been reported," said Gupta, who earlier was associated with a couple of environmental organisations, including Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). In the new guidelines set up by the commission, private trekkers or organisations may be asked to get registered. The rules will hold the organisers responsible in case of emergency and will highlight the need for safety, sanitation and location.

Anil Bhandari of Youth Hostels Association of India, a nature club, said: "We have been conducting camps since 1985 and have trained people. We arrange for doctors in our camp. Till date there has been no serious case."
Atul Sathe, PRO, BNHS, refused to comment and said he was busy.

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