The J&K High Court has sought specific guidelines from the government regarding registration of houseboats, Shikaras and motor boats in Dal Lake here.
Citing the suggestions made by Committee of Experts (CoE) in its report of 20 November, a division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed that a comprehensive policy with regard to the registration of houseboats, Shikaras, motor boats, bathing boats and other water-based was required to be framed.
The Court directed Vice Chairman, LAWDA and Commissioner Secretary Tourism to consider the suggestions made by the Committee in its report.
“The Commissioner Secretary, Tourism shall place before us specific guidelines regarding the registration of the houseboats,” the Court said.
It directed Secretary Tourism and Vice Chairman LAWDA to hold considered deliberations on all recommendations made by the panel.
A considered view, the Court said, may be taken on the recommendations of the CoE which would include the policy with regard to the registration, de-registration and surrendering of boats.
The Court ordered that the CoE’s report and the deliberations of the Secretary Tourism and Vice Chairman LAWDA should be placed before the Chief Secretary who may consider the same and ensure a formal document was prepared and placed before the court by December 24.
While the CoE in its report has recommended reduction of the number of houseboats and dongas, the Court said it would consider this aspect on the next date of hearing.
The Court however directed all authorities concerned that the number of houseboats in Dal and Nigeen Lakes shall not be permitted to be increased.
After it was informed that the Secretary, Housing and UEED were joining meetings with the CoE via video conferencing, the Court requested the Chief Secretary to interact with the committee so that all matters which required urgent decision and resolution were resolved without any delay.
The Court issued the directions after perusing the report of the CoE. Referring to the report, the Court said there was an important matter regarding the retransfer of ownership and registration of the houseboats.
The guidelines for the registration, the Court said, would incorporate all recommendations of the Committee. The CoE’s report has also pointed out several measures regarding hygiene, fire safety in respect of houseboats.
The CoE has divulged that the houseboats and dongas are parked on the Dal Lake without any fixed order and the gap between the boats is not uniform, some are moored cheek by jowl with barely eight feet between the windows of adjoining houseboats.
“This has occurred because there have been no guidelines or policy for registration of the houseboats and no consideration about the optimum carrying capacity”.
The Court said the CoE has made valuable suggestions which are premised on the willingness of several houseboat owners to sell their houseboats or to surrender the same in exchange of engagement with some hospitality business somewhere on the land.
“Various ideas to setup a Unique Tourist Village at an identified site have been mooted on the lines of Bruges in Belgium,” the Court said.
The Court said the CoE has referred to its discussions with the stakeholders and the willingness of the several houseboat owners to surrender the houseboats in view of the fact that maintaining the same was not the profitable business it used to be before 1990.
The COE, the Court said, has directed that the Tourism department and LAWDA to hold detailed consultation with stakeholders and come up with such policy which would facilitate de-registration and even surrendering of houseboats.
Moreover the Committee, the Court said, has suggested that few of the houseboats could be converted into cruise boats provided that they do not pollute the Lake.
“Furthermore, it has been suggested that the Tourism department would consider developing other water bodies for transferring some houseboats to new sites”.
The Court said the committee has also made valuable suggestions regarding reviving the dongas Cruise, a floating restaurant which was introduced in 1980’s. “This would be similar to river cruise concept as existed on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok”.
With regard to the compliance report filed by the Director, Tourism Kashmir the Court said nothing other than the constitution of the Committee was disclosed in the report.
Senior additional advocate general M A Chashoo however informed the Court that he has received the report from the Department regarding the GPS Mapping of existing houseboats.
“Let the latest position be brought on record in a proper status report,” the Court said.