Srinagar, Nov 17: A delegation from the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI), led by its President Javed Ahmad Tenga, met Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha at Raj Bhawan on Thursday, November 16 to discuss the recent gutting of five houseboats in Dal Lake, the dwindling number of houseboats, and the urgent need for support from the government to revive this iconic tourism sector.
The KCCI delegation, which included Secretary General Faiz Bakshi and Treasurer Zubair Mahajan, expressed grave concern over the loss of crores of rupees and the unfortunate loss of lives due to the recent houseboat fires. They highlighted the alarming decline in the number of houseboats from 1200 to around 850 in the past few decades and warned of an existential threat to this globally recognized heritage product if the pressing issues faced by stakeholders are not addressed immediately.
The KCCI presented alarming statistics revealing that as many as 25 houseboats were destroyed in massive fires between 2018 and 2023, while an additional 207 were damaged or destroyed due to storms, drowning, and other natural calamities between 2009 and 2023. Despite these losses, permissions for repairs, renovation, and reconstruction are still pending from concerned authorities.
In light of these pressing concerns, the KCCI urged the Lt. Governor to take immediate action and implement short-term and long-term measures to alleviate the suffering of the affected houseboat owners:
Urgent Short-Term Suggestions:
Immediate Relief and Rehabilitation for affected houseboat owners
Streamlined permission process for reconstruction of houseboats and residential or service hutments under a Single Window System, considering the impending severe weather conditions.
Supply of timber from the State Forest Corporation at subsidized rates on a Fast Track basis.
Upgrading of fire fighting services in Dal and Nigeen Lakes.
Expeditious approval for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the 207 houseboats damaged or destroyed due to floods and natural calamities.
Furthermore, President Tenga extended a personal invitation to the Lt. Governor to visit the KCCI’s exhibition venue at the India International Trade Fair (IITF) on the occasion of “Kashmir Divas” on November 18, 2023. The Lt. Governor graciously accepted the invitation and assured his presence at Pragati Maidan on November 18, 2023. The KCCI expressed its belief that the Lt. Governor’s visit would send a strong message of government support for promoting and encouraging Kashmiri handicrafts.
In addition, the KCCI requested the Lt. Governor to persuade the Jammu & Kashmir Bank to announce another One-Time Settlement (OTS) Scheme at the MSME level, extending its coverage to borrowers with loans above 50 lacs. Such a scheme would enable the bank to recover its dues while providing borrowers with an opportunity to settle their accounts. This would undoubtedly boost confidence within the business community.
Finally, the KCCI informed the Lt. Governor about the growing demand for direct flights between Srinagar and Jeddah to cater to the over 30,000 pilgrims who travel for Umrah, particularly during the winter months. The KCCI urged the Lt. Governor to utilize his influence to facilitate the operation of direct flights between Srinagar and Jeddah, providing much-needed relief to Umrah pilgrims.
The Lt. Governor assured the KCCI delegation that their concerns would be given due consideration and that positive action would be taken. President Tenga expressed his gratitude to the Lt. Governor for his continued guidance and support to the KCCI.