Famous Houseboats Of Kashmir Are Sinking Into Watery Graves

Famous Houseboats Of Kashmir Are Sinking Into Watery Graves

23 January 2012
Mail Online
Naseer Ganai

Srinagar: The famed houseboats, the face of Kashmir tourism for nearly a century, are sinking because of a bizarre order passed recently by the state government. 'This autocratic government has banned the repairs and reconstruction of houseboats. 'If the ban continues, you will not find a single houseboat in the Dal lake or elsewhere in the Valley,' Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association (KHOA) president Muhammad Azim Tuman said. 'When armed insurgency was at its peak in Kashmir during the 90s, our boys went to Delhi and other places for motivating tourists to visit Kashmir. Despite travel advisories and negative press, we kept the tourism industry flourishing. And now we are being accused of polluting the Dal lake…the government is treating us as pariahs,' Yaqoob Ahmad, another houseboat owner, said. Currently, there are 595 houseboats, including economy and deluxe class, in the Dal lake. Of these, 200 houseboats are in need of urgent repairs. In other water bodies, the number of registered houseboats is 144. An economy-class houseboat costs between '20-30 lakh, while a deluxe houseboat costs around Rs 3.5 crore. These houseboats need regular repairs. Tuman says the number of houseboats in the 80s - when the government had put restrictions only on the repairs and reconstruction - was around 3,000. 'Subsequently, the government issued several orders without consulting us. That is the real tragedy. The officials don't know anything and the political class is insensitive. 'If the houseboats are sinking in Chinarbagh and Dal lake, it is because the government's policy ensures that they sink,' an angry Tuman added. The 75-year-old KHOA chairman has unsuccessfully pleaded the case of houseboat owners before successive CMs, the HC and even the Centre. 'The tourism department had last year announced the creation of a dockyard for houseboat repairs. It only remains on paper,' he said, adding: 'Everyone has the impression that we are polluting the lake. That is not the truth. 'Ninety seven per cent of the city's sewage is being pumped into the lake while our share is only three per cent.' Lakes & Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) chairperson Irfan Yasin said a division bench of the high court had issued strict orders that the number of houseboats be kept in check. 'We are only following the court's order,' he added.