Pahalgam: As many as 85 hotels, 158 guesthouses, including huts, are registered with the tourism department in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam division. But on the ground, around 300 commercial establishments are illegally operating in the three districts of the zone.
Of this, around 150 commercial establishments are functional in Pahalgam’s Mawura, Yanner, and Batkoot areas while the rest are functioning in Pahalgam town and its satellite areas. Only five hotels and guesthouses are registered in the other two districts, a fact corroborated by official data of the tourism department, accessed by Kashmir Reader.
A senior official from the tourism department (who was not authorised to talk to the media) admitted they had informed their headquarters about the illegal establishments, but no action was initiated against the violators. Also, the prerogative of allowing the illegal hotels and huts lies with the Pahalgam Development Authority, responsible for upkeep of the tourist spot.
“The PDA hasn’t issued a No-Objection Certificate to these hotels or huts, mandatory for running the establishments. However the PDA doesn’t wind down their businesses as well. So, in a way, it allows them to run their operations,” said the official.
Many hotels or guesthouses, in fact, are running their businesses under the garb of ‘paying guesthouses’ – which was a scheme introduced to allow people to rent out residences or homes to tourists. But an official spokesman of the tourism department said they would designate a committee to act against these illegal establishments. “We will ensure all the illegal hotels and huts are closed and the concerned officer will seal them in the near future,” the official revealed.
Interestingly, these illegal structures have either been constructed on forestland, a wildlife sanctuary or on the banks of the rivers Lidder and Sindh. (A list of these hotels and huts is with Kashmir Reader).
For instance, a two-storey wood-panelled Hotel Himalaya, owned by Gulzar Ahmad, defies all construction norms. Shockingly, it stands on a portion of the river Sindh and water flows beneath the foundation of the hotel.
Interestingly, the former Chief Executive Officer of the PDA, Mohammad Yusuf Bhat, whose services were terminated by the government, did not act against the hotel despite receiving complaints.