Srinagar: An influential hotelier is putting up a barricade while filling earth on a huge chunk of forest land in Pahalgam to build a recreational park outside the hotel — Pine and Peak — allegedly after being given the nod by CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Sources said that when a team led by Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Lidder forest division, Himayun Kabir visited the site last week, they were told that Mufti has given a green signal for ‘developing’ the park. But forest minister Bali Bhagat said officials from his department had removed the “encroachment” after the hotelier attempted to fence off the forestland.
Himayun denied his office received any instructions from Mufti — who also holds the charge of the tourism ministry — for developing the park adjacent to Hotel Pine and Peak. “Setting up the park is a violation of the Forest Conservation Act. The hotelier had started fencing the forestland. They had filled earth on a portion of land, but we halted the work,” he told Kashmir Reader.
Interestingly, the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA), which is maintaining the picturesque resort, denied any such park was coming up in its jurisdiction. “No fencing was erected by the hotelier or such an order passed by the CM,’ said Chief Executive Officer Riyaz Ahmad Wani.
Sources said the hotelier deputed his staffers to the PDA and DFO office for seeking a no objection certificate for the park, a fact corroborated by Bali Bhagat. But Kabir, on his part, said “How can we give the NOC to an hotelier? Then, anyone can come up and seek a NOC tomorrow (sic). If we have to develop any park, we will do it on our own.”
The High Court has imposed a blanket ban on construction in the areas falling within the ambit of the PDA after a PIL was filed by locals. In the wake of the ban, the public works department, electric department or a semi-government agency has to seek written permission from the departments concerned for any such activity. For installing an electricity pole or a water pipe, for instance, the departments concerned have to seek prior permission from the forest department.
The owner of the hotel, meanwhile, claimed they were asked by the CM to maintain the otherwise ‘dull portion of the hill under Corporate Social Responsibility’. “We haven’t started any activity yet, so how can it be halted? We are waiting for the clearance,” he said.
Bhagat, however, refuted it saying the hotelier had conveyed to officials that ‘Mufti sahib has allowed’ him to develop the site.