The J&K government's move to outsource Hari Niwas Palace here—an erstwhile dreaded torture center—and promote it as a 'wedding tourism destination' has found fewer takers, with officials blaming "notorious history of the place" for the poor response.
The government's initiative to outsource the Palace on Gupkar Road—which was refurbished by former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad—has failed to attract investors as only two bidders have participated in the tendering process, sources told Greater Kashmir.
The government had fixed the license fee for outsourcing the Palace at Rs 6 crore, with a valid agreement for six years.
However, a senior official in Civil Secretariat here, said only two bidders participated in the tendering process and the tender bids, as per technicalities, could not opened due to poor response.
"The state-level contract committee can open tenders only when there are minimum three participants and in this case there are only two. So now technically we have to re-tender it," he said, adding, "It's up to the state government now to take a decision in this regard."
The official, who insisted not to be named, said the "notorious history" of the place "is haunting its present, and shall haunt its future too."
"Hari Niwas is a known place of bad omens," he said, admitting that no prominent businessman of the state came forward in the outsourcing bid. "They didn't even show interest to enquire about the formalities."
The move to outsource Hari Niwas Palace was taken by the Mufti-led government to promote the erstwhile torture centre as "wedding tourism destination."
Interestingly, the palace was declared as "permanent Chief Minister's residence" by Ghulam Nabi Azad. He was the only the Chief Minister in the post-partition era to refurbish the property and stay there for some time. But the "jinx" returned when he had to prematurely resign on July 7, 2008 following the Amarnath land row. Some linked Azad's fall to the 'myth' that the Palace was haunted.
Legend has it that "Maharaja Hari Singh was told not to build the palace at its existing location on Gupkar Road as it was inauspicious. He ignored the warning and the events post-1947 proved inauspicious and forced the Dogra ruler to pack his belongings from Kashmir. His dream of living in the new Palace never realized."
Similarly, Azad had to resign after he started living in the property, following which former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah out rightly rejected to shift to the palace.
Mufti has also preferred to stay out of the "CM House" and is residing at Fair View here, which was named as Papa-2—another torture centre—situated in the vicinity of Hari Niwas Palace.
The Hari Niwas currently is serving as State Guest House, but its "murky and mysterious history" continues to haunt it.
In mid 1990s, when militancy was at its peak in Kashmir, the Palace meant "death and torture center" for Kashmiris and many people continue to narrate the horrifying tales of torture there.
During Farooq Abdullah's tenure (1996-2002), a proposal was mooted to convert the building into a Museum. However, it did not materialize until Azad spent around Rs 10 crore to convert it into Chief Minister's House. In the sprawling building built over 70 kanal (nine hectare) land, there are three Presidential Suites, VVIP guest house and scores of bedrooms.
A prominent businessman of the Valley said if government finds the property "inauspicious", "why should we invest in the place which has a history of dreaded tales and is witness to death and torture of many innocent Kashmiris."
Pertinently, the association of the parents of disappeared persons (APDP) has accused the government of "destroying material evidence of custodial torture" by "facilitating renovation of Hari Niwas Palace." The association had demanded shelving the plan "in the best interests of justice."
The APDP members believe converting Hari Niwas for hospitality of diplomats and ambassadors was state's "new policy to camouflage these structures where innocents were tortured."
According to them, the decision to convert it into a state guest house "will destroy vital evidence of killings and custodial torture and thus hamper administration of justice."