The Department of Tourism’s document outlines norms and guidelines for registration, renewal, and operation of houseboats in Kashmir’s famous Dal and Nageen lakes.
Already reeling under the aftermath of over three decades of political unrest, loss of tourism and the ongoing lockdown, Kashmir’s iconic houseboat industry seems to have been delivered a final blow.
In what is being seen as lip service to inclusive policy-making, the Department of Tourism has chosen the lockdown period to release a draft Houseboat Policy which has now been put in the public domain for deliberation with stakeholders.
The document outlines norms and guidelines for registration, renewal, and operation of houseboats in the famous Dal and Nageen lakes. It has been put up for discussion for all stakeholders, including the 950 odd members of an association representing the business.
The move is self-limiting since it will be impossible for the 950 members to assemble for an emergency AGM, either physically or virtually, given internet restrictions in the valley. The deadline for submitting the feedback, however, is July 6 as of now.
Operators are labeling the policy as “draconian and harsh” because it expects them to shape up or shut shop within a three-month deadline to refurbish as per renewed regulations.
Anyone even remotely familiar with the houseboat business knows that refurbishing a unit that has not been fully operational is a process that takes much longer than three months. Also, these guidelines come at a time when there is no tourist footfall in the valley and finances could not be affected more than they are at the moment.
The biggest concern for houseboat owners is that regulatory reforms and ease of doing business cannot go hand in hand with the new policy which demands a NOC from more than five departments, not necessarily connected to the Tourism Department.
According to the draft policy, the owners will require NOC from Power Development Department, PHE Department, Fire and Emergency Services Department, Pollution Control Board, LAWDA, and any other authority/departments the registering authority deems proper. This sounds like a death knell for the already floundering industry which has been an intrinsic part of Kashmir’s cultural heritage for over 150 years.
Some houseboat owners have made recommendations for changes in the policy such as the inclusion of NOC from PCB and LAWDA only after the broader and vital issue of sanitation of houseboats is addressed and solved. These requirements are impractical given that in the absence of a long-term solution to sanitation problems of not just houseboats but a larger part of the city, no entity can meet the requirements.
According to Yaseen Tuman, whose family has been in the houseboat business for generations, “While there is consensus over the dire need to transform the business to make them environment friendly (even though the houseboats contribute less than 0.8 per cent to the total environmental pollution in the Lake as per various environmental studies), the timing chosen and the deadlines given don’t seem to be well thought over.”
Unless the policy is accompanied by an ecosystem to assist owners with technological know-how for structured sanitation, financial assistance, incentives, and subsidies, this would be the nemesis of thousands of families engaged in this business for decades.
Houseboats provide a source of livelihood to lakhs of people both directly and indirectly, including shikarawallas, flower sellers, fishermen, floating handicraft markets, photographers, woodcarvers, khatamband craftsmen, vegetable growers, handicraft hawkers, carpenters specialising in hull-making, and crewel fabric makers among others.
The Tourism Department’s move to sign up unregistered units is a welcome step in differentiating between serious and fly-by-night operators. This despite the fact that the number of houseboats has declined rather than reaching any perceived saturation level in recent times.
No new licenses have been issued for the last three decades, only a procedure of repair and replacement of existing houseboats or registered units is in place and permissible. But the new regulation being pushed through without consideration for dismal conditions of the houseboat business ecosystem is more disfavour than a step in the right direction for the dispensation in Kashmir.
Hope someone at the Centre, is listening to this small community with an accentuated sense of alienation that does not form a huge vote bank.
For Booking & Information about Houseboat
Please Visit us at www.KashmirTravels.in
Or Call at 91 97960 24 365