Sonamarg satellite imagery upholds findings of DEERS report

Confirms tourist resort crossed threshold, falsifies BOCA claim

Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, Apr 14: The much-awaited satellite imagery of Sonamarg tourist resort in Kashmir has given credence to the comprehensive report of the Department of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing (DEERS) on the resort having crossed the threshold for constructions.

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As per the DEERS report, the built-up area of Sonamarg tourist resort was over 78 hectares much above the threshold of 50 hectares as per the Master Plan 2005-25.
In order to facilitate construction of more hotels and other infrastructure in the eco-fragile tourist report against the findings of the DEERS report and Supreme Court guidelines, the Chairman of BOCA for Sonamarg Development Authority (SDA) last year formed a committee which tried to falsify the DEERS report.
The BOCA submitted a Blueprint to the High Court seeking permission from it for construction of more hotels and other infrastructure as the court had banned any further constructions in the eco-fragile Sonamarg on the basis of DEERS report.
The High Court in order to clear doubts about DEERS report raised by the BOCA chairman, sought satellite imagery of the resort.
The report prepared on the basis of Satellite imagery has given credence to the DEERS report and falsified the claims of the BOCA.
The BOCA had claimed that Sonamarg had still 5.26 hectares of land available for construction of hotels out of 8.87 hectares as proposed in the Master plan. It showed only 3.25 hectares were used for hotel constructions so far while satellite imagery showed 29.09 hectares of land are presently under hotels.
“According to the Sonamarg Master Plan Report, the total area allocated for hotels is 8.87 hectares. However, the Georeferenced Plan shows an area of 23.77 hectares. On the ground, Satellite imagery indicates an area of 29.09 hectares. And the built-up area including the open area annexed with the structure is 12.58 hectare”, read the report based on satellite imagery.
“Regarding, Janta Hotel, an area of 1.45 hectares is earmarked in the Master Plan. Whereas the georeferenced image depicts 1.81 Hectares,” read the report.
“Hutments and Integrated Tourist Resorts has been earmarked with an area of 26.2 hectares as per Master Plan Report. However, the georeferenced Master Plan revealed an area of 44.3 hectares and satellite imagery showed 44.81 Hectares. In addition, the built up area of 3.4 hectares is under government hut/hutment. It is pertinent to mention here that an area designated for hutment and integrated tourist resort is being used as Transit Camp engulfing an area of 8.17 hectares with a built-up area of 1.12 hectares excluding open area”.
“According to the Sonamarg Master Plan Report, the total area allocated for commercial land use is 1.52 hectares. While the Georeferenced Master Plan Commercial area remains at 0.66 hectares, the land area on satellite imagery for commercial use is 1.48 hectares,” read the report said.
The report further said: “Commercial land use as per the Master Plan envisaged to relocate the existing shopkeepers adjacent to the Proposed Bus Terminal. However, during site visits it was observed that the said use is still intact in the same area and are not relocated.”
It may be mentioned here that in December 2022, BOCA controversially cleared construction of a hotel of an influential Kashmiri businessman and a hotelier by violating the Supreme Court guidelines and recommendations of DEERS report.
Later, they sought more constructions in the resort through the Blueprint submitted before the High Court. “Permission for creation of new accommodation facilities to cater high end tourists which include big business houses, Film production houses, Corporate and MICE tourism as per the existing capacity of the area. To permit creations of infrastructure in those cases which are cleared by BOCA but till date have not started the work as per the norms in the BOCA Act. To permit the authorities to allow the completion of infrastructure and Buildings within permissible limits which are under construction as per the approved plan/ permissions,” read the Blueprint.
The Blueprint was submitted hardly two months after then CEO SDA, Mushtaq Ahmad Rather, in an affidavit before the High Court in February last year made it clear that no fresh constructions can be allowed in eco-fragile Sonamarg.
“…any further new construction in the Sonamarg area will drastically add to the existing footprint and bulk, thereby causing further damage to the ecologically fragile environment of the Sonamarg area; and if the permissions for new constructions at the Sonamarg area are considered by the competent authority, there are at least 32 cases of building permissions for construction of Hotels/Huts etc at Sonamarg pending with the SDA, who have already obtained almost all the requisite NOCs way back in 2013 and onwards from different quarters as envisaged in the existing Master Plan 2005-25 of Tourist Destination Sonamarg, which could lead further damage to the ecologically fragile environment of the area,” the affidavit read.