J&K High Court Allowing Repairs Of Houseboats Has Come Relief To Owners, But Many Say Lack Funds For Costly Work

SRINAGAR, Jul 14: The order of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court allowing repairs of houseboats has come as a relief to the owners of these floating dwellings in the city’s water bodies, but many claim that the delay has pushed them into penury with no means to undertake the costly works.
Manzoor Ahmed Pakhtoon, president Houseboat Owners’ Association, said the order was a welcome step.
”It was a prolonged pending issue due to which a large number of houseboats need to be repaired. Every houseboat now needs major and minor repair work. We are very thankful to the High Court and to the Lieutenant Governor as after this judgement many people associated with houseboats got relief,” Pakhtoon said.
He said after the lifting of the ban on repairs, the people associated with houseboats have regained interest in carrying out their businesses.
”Now we are hopeful that the pending houseboats that are in the pipeline for repairs and renovation may get the order soon for refurbishing and we are hopeful that the existing ones will be maintained,” he added.
In 1988, the then Farooq Abdullah-led government had banned the building of new houseboats and repair and renovation of the existing ones in Kashmir due to pollution concerns. Then, the government wanted to reduce the number of houseboat to save environment.
Pakhtoon said only 750 to 800 houseboats were left in four water bodies — Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake, Chinar Bagh and Jhelum river — in the city. He claimed that the number was around 2,000 in early 1990.
”We request for a comprehensive policy for houseboats as whatever is left there must be saved,” he added.
A houseboat owner, Ghulam Qadir Gassi, said he is thankful for the order but rued that it has come a little late.
”We are very thankful to the government if the ban had been lifted earlier, I wouldn’t have been suffering now. My house boat sank into the river Jhelum and I lost all my property and belongings. We are homeless now,” Gassi said.
Living in a tent, he wants the administration to extend a helping hand to him.
”My family’s condition is very miserable. We live in adverse weather under a tent that is terrifying for us. My family is now suffering from depression and the education of my children is also suffering a lot…I request the authorities to provide me with adequate funds that will end my sufferings,” he added.
Nazir Ahmed, another Houseboat owner, said the houseboats will perish from the Kashmiri landscape if these are not maintained.
”If houseboats are not be repaired on time, all of them would perish. For nearly 40 years, we were not allowed to do any kind of renovation,” he said.
Ahmed said the repairs of houseboats was a costly affair and most people living in houseboats had meagre incomes.
”We now need funds for the repair work. We have a minimal source of income as we were supposed to earn from tourists that rent the houseboats for leisure. But as the condition of the house boat is extremely poor, tourists do not come. They have the fear of staying in house boats when they see the deplorable conditions of house boats,” he added.
Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, Secretary, Tourism Department, said houseboats are heritage and one of the main attractions for inbound and domestic tourists.
”There were a set of issues like repair and renovation, some regulatory permissions like renewals. We had major stakeholder consultations and we are keeping open our channels of communication,” he said.
”We made sure that we discussed and sat across with them and other relevant departments. For example, repair of houseboats requires the forestry department, forest corporation and lake department to be on board. By and large, all the major problems have been resolved and we will facilitate with whatever help they require from the department,” he added. (Agenceis)