Good faith, bad policy  

Though the state high court has kept in view the sensitive environment of Jammu and Kashmir while ordering to seal hundreds of hotels across Kashmir but the hoteliers criticize the policy that the court is insisting them to implement. Syed Asma reports

No hotel except Hotel Khyber Himalayan Resorts has individual STP facility. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
No hotel except Hotel Khyber Himalayan Resorts has individual STP facility.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

It all started with a tiff between two business partners – both hoteliers in Gulmarg. In a rage, one of them, Mohammad Rafiq Zargar, went up to the state high court and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against illegal constructions in Gulmarg and Tangmarg keeping in view the fragile environment of the place.

The reason then stated, while filing the PIL, was safeguarding eco-sensitive areas of Gulmarg and Tangmarg.

After the PIL was filed, the court looked beyond illegal constructions in Gulmarg and Tangmarg. They took cognizance of many other things including the existence and usage of Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the hotels across Jammu and Kashmir.

The court maintained that the hotel having more than twenty rooms should have an individual STP in operation. Pertinently, the state government had relaxed the norms for the hotels from 20 to 35 rooms but the state high court came down heavily on this concession and told everyone concerned to implement the pollution controls norms or else shut their operations. Among the hotels closed were those who were not eligible for the concession yet had not installed sewage treatment plants on their premises.

Though, it is said that the issue between two business partners got resolved after a deal worth lakhs but their personal tiff proved a bane to the tourism sector especially to the hoteliers of Jammu and Kashmir.

The local hoteliers complain this step has been nothing more than an act of defamation for them which is well-cashed by the other tourist destinations of India. Since last year, the local hoteliers say, they lost a good chunk of tourists who now prefer other tourist states.

The hoteliers complain that the defamation has resulted in the decrease of the footfall of tourists. It started at the advent of winters when our potential tourists cancelled their bookings and moved to places like Himachal Pradesh.

“While sealing the hotels, tourists who were already in the hotels were dragged out which sent a very negative message to the rest of the country,” Faiz Ahmed Bakshi, an hotelier was quoted by an international magazine.

“Now when the issue between two friends is resolved, a new issue – in fact a bigger issue, has popped up making things difficult for the whole tourism industry,” says an hotelier wishing not to be named.

The court has observed the hotels across state do not follow the policy of State Pollution Control Board (SPCB). The policy is framed under the Water (Prevention and control of Pollution) Act, 1974 act no. 6 of 1974 [23rd March, 1974.] The Act asks for, “the prevention and control of water pollution and the maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness of water, for the establishment, with a view to different purposes.”

The policy says that the hotel which has more than twenty rooms should have an individual STP in operation. It asks for a cost of at least 10-20 lakhs from the hotelier apart from the regular maintenances which goes up to Rs 40,000 a month.

However, earlier the court had found that no hotel except Hotel Khyber Himalayan Resorts has individual STP facility. But that too is not operational yet.

Graphical representation of Sewage Treatment Plant.
Graphical representation of Sewage Treatment Plant.

So far, since the PIL is filed, more than 400 hotels across Valley have been ordered to be shut for failing to comply with pollution control norms creating problems for the hoteliers in particular and tourism industry in general.

Most of the hotels, around 250, are in Srinagar, 92 in Pahalgam and around 18 in Gulmarg. “Most of these hotels have either made the investment of getting a STP or has connected to the common STP of the area,” says Adil Khan, General Secretary Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Khan adds, in Pahalgam and Gulmarg issue is more or less sorted but Srinagar remains an issue still.

“Srinagar hotels could not do much because of the space constrains,” claims Khan.

Hotel owners have appealed to the court against the closure and have their own justifications and suggestions.

Khan along with his association members suggest that court should act a bit flexible and should encourage the government to invest a bit in the sector.

“State should be asked to make common STPs in the area as they can handle the expenses well – may that be purchasing an STP or maintaining it.  We can be asked to pay the charges as we do for others things,” says Khan.

The local hoteliers complain that if civil secretariat has 600 washrooms catering to more than 30,000 people, legislative assembly having 100 washrooms catering to at least 5000 people in a session or even High court having 70 washrooms catering to 10,000 people are not asked to have their own STPs, why are hotels having more than 20 rooms (20 washrooms) are asked to have individual STPs.

The usual drainage system present in the existing hotels is of socket-pit and septic tanks which as per the local hoteliers manage the waste that their hotels produce per annum.

“I suppose it is a policy hijacked from some metropolitan city. We definitely need a policy to conserve our fragile environment but this certainly is not the one. It has serious loopholes,” says Ghulam Mohammed Dugg, President of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Federation (KHAROF).

Adding about the flaws of the policy, Dugg says, that Valley’s climatic conditions are not feasible for the STPs that they are supposed to place in their hotels. It needs a constant temperature of 20 degree Celsius to work effectively for which a protected environment is needed. It asks for a huge capital, he adds. And government need to intervene there.”

“We would be ready to invest if we could justify its expenses but here we cannot,” says Dugg.

The hoteliers say that Kashmir’s tourism season is hardly for six months, if everything goes well. But, they add, if there are political disturbances like 2008 and 2010, the footfall of tourists is negligible, they will have to face huge losses.

Talking about the importance of STP and clearing the sewage water, Khan says, “Seeing the importance of the tourism in Kashmir we ought to conserve the place and its environment but the policy court is asking us to implement is half baked.”

He says when a hotel treats its sewage water properly it still has to mix with the general drain water of the area. What is the fun of STPs installed in the hotels?

He suggests that state and the court should come up with a proper order and policy which will treat all the sectors and areas alike.

Besides, the court order caters the entire state but no action has been done in other parts of the state like Jammu and Katra. Though, the footfall of the tourist is more than double in Katra then that of Kashmir.

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