Defer issuance of new guidelines for houseboats, take all stakeholders on board: JKAP’s Dilawar tells JK Govt

SRINAGAR, July 8: Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) senior leader and former tourism minister Mohammad Dilawar Mir on Wednesday urged the J&K government to defer formulation and issuance of new guidelines regulating the tourism trade for houseboats in Kashmir till the COVID lockdown is over.

In a statement issued here on Wednesday, Mir said that the new guidelines kept in public domain by the government on functioning of houseboats in Dal, Nigeen Lakes, Chinar Bagh and river Jhelum in Srinagar are not in sync with the demands and aspirations of the houseboat owners who are already facing immense problems due to law and order situation and COVID pandemic.

The JKAP leader observed that most of the houseboat owners in Kashmir are not in a position to respond to the government appeal for submitting their feedback and suggestions with regard to the new guidelines in the prevailing circumstances through online mode. Mir said that submission of  a final reply will require a general body meeting of all members of the houseboat association (Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association) consisting of approximately 1000 members and holding such a meeting at this juncture will go against Covid-19 protocol and guidelines issued by MHA.

“The government must understand difficulties faced by most of the traditional houseboat owners who are not well versed with the use of internet facility that too when the mobile internet speed is dismal in Kashmir. And unless all the stakeholders are not taken on board, the new guidelines which are harsher in tone and tenor can prove detrimental to Kashmir’s historic houseboat trade,” Mir remarked.

He said that there are a number of clauses in the new guidelines including renewal of licenses, realignment of houseboats, removal of structures, sanitation and regulatory mechanism which are totally against the interest of houseboat owners and even violate their basic and fundamental rights guaranteed under law.

“Kashmir houseboats represent a mosaic of culture and hospitality of Kashmiris acclaimed by the whole world. The houseboat owners are not averse to preservation of Lakes and waterways besides reducing pollution. But the government must not push them to the wall by enforcing a set of guidelines which are bound to destroy this age old business,” Mir opined.

He said that besides representing Kashmir’s cultural uniqueness, the houseboat business is a source of employment generation providing a source of livelihood to lakhs of people who are directly or indirectly connected with this trade. “People including Shikara Walla, vegetable growers, handicraft hawkers of old city, flower sellers, fishermen community, floating handicrafts market, photographers, woodcarvers,  Khatamband craftsmen, carpenters specialized in Hull making and framework, Handmade crewel fabric makers etc depend on the houseboat business. And the government must understand their problems and address their demands accordingly,” he demanded.

Mir said that till all these stakeholders are not consulted and taken on board for formulation of new rules the government must continue with the guidelines of Tourist Trade Act of 1979 which is already in vogue in Kashmir. He further demanded that issuance of new guidelines should be deferred till the COVID-10 lockdown is over. The JKAP leader observed that the houseboat owners have been the worst victim of law and order situation that emerged out of political instability in Kashmir. “This sector has been battling for survival since the outbreak of militancy which resulted in a dismal footfall of tourists in the Valley. Since August last year the houseboat owners are almost without any trade activities. This situation has been further aggravated by the prevailing pandemic,” he added.

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