Relief, Hotels In Gulmarg Asked To Function Normally Till March

by Saima Bhat

SRINAGAR: In view of the ongoing winter games held at famous ski resort Gulmarg, which will be followed by the events on Christmas Eve and New Year, the hoteliers have taken a sigh a relief when they were asked by the administration to continue with their work till March 2021.

Tourists enjoying snow scooter riding at Gulmarg on Wednesday, January 1, 2020.KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The district development council in collaboration with the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) has formed committees on Saturday, which will hear the concerns of hoteliers to further ease out the plan where hoteliers will be allowed to do their work, without encroaching the government spaces.

“I am happy that now we’ll be able to concentrate fully on preparations for the upcoming Christmas Eve and the new year celebrations.” Altaf Ahmad, a hotelier from Gulmarg said, “After today’s formal order we were assured for reconciliation, where everyone will be taken on board before taking any decision. We will be given a chance to represent our cases legally.”

His hotel was given permission under a lease agreement in 1978, along with 69 more hotels, for 40 years and the lease was extendable. The lease expired in 2018, after which all of these hotels were denied the permission of extending their lease.

As per government records, the lease can be extended up to 40 years and further it is extendable up to 10 years and 50 years respectively after inspecting all the parameters of the agreement.

The newly wed couple actress Sana Khan and her cleric husband at Gulmarg.

However, a majority of the hotels are now running without a lease, even though the hoteliers had approached the government for extending their lease many times, the government has failed to extend it.

It all started after the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir was hearing a Public Interest Litigation on Gulmarg, under a division bench of the former Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Puneet Gupta that said hoteliers which were under expired leases had no right to continue occupying the hotels. The court directed the Jammu and Kashmir government in October, to take immediate steps for retrieval of public land which is under the unauthorized occupation and encroachment in Gulmarg. The DB had even warned the GDA for the auction of such kind of properties.

Tim Robertson and Kate Hamilton with their guests during their 2019 wedding at Gulmarg. Pic: Twitter

The court recently asked the government for initiating the process of taking over all these hotels. The land lease agreements of almost all the hotels with the government have expired. Some of the hoteliers are allegedly in possession of hundreds of kanals of land without any allotment.

“Hotels are not even allowed to do renovation work. Government has even started demolishing some structures here. Thousands of people are associated with tourism in Gulmarg, where will they go?” questioned another hotelier. He added, “First it was 2019 lockdown and then Coronavirus stuck us. We were hopeful that this winter we will be able to do some business but all the hopes were dashed when the news spread that our hotels will be taken over by the government.”

The General Secretary JK Hotels, Tariq Ahmad Ganie while speaking to various media outlets shared his utter shock after the government told them they are “illegal occupants” of the hotels.

The Gulmarg Gandola

But at the same time the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) Inam ul Haq Siddiqui has reportedly said they are following the court orders and accordingly retrieving the “illegally occupied” land by some hoteliers. “The issue of extending land lease agreement for hotels is pending with the government,” he said.

He has also added that the hotels would continue to function and no hotelier has been asked to stop taking bookings for the winter season. “Hotels will continue to function normally,” he said.

But the District Commissioner Baramulla Dr GN Itoo, who is heading the evacuation process, when contacted did not respond to repeated calls.

But reportedly it was decided in the weekend meeting that no encroachment will be tolerated, which was supported by the hoteliers.

Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya

President Hoteliers Club Mushtaq Ahmed Chaya also spoke to media after the meeting, where he has said, “We are not supporting land encroachers. But we suggest the government if someone will beautify the place in front of his hotel for tourists and uses it as lawn, he should be allowed. The government can erect the GDA board on the land also. Everyone knows who is a genuine hotelier and who is not. Every hotel here is on a lease, maybe a lease of some has expired. There is no violation of court directions. Only those bring material here who are authorised by the government.”

However, the Hotel Hilltop continues to remain sealed from July 2020.

Meanwhile, the reports have started pouring in from another tourist resort Pahalgam that government is all set to serve notices to the hoteliers and shopkeepers who have either “encroached the land” or their land lease agreements have expired.

Pertinently three weeks earlier, a demolition drive was held in which makeshift huts used by people from the nomadic Gujjar community in Mamal village in the hills of Pahalgam, were dismantled.

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