Legal diktats, ‘beautification’: Why Kashmir’s houseboat heritage is dying

The number of houseboats has declined from thousands in the 1980s to 750 now.

WrittenBy:Rehan Qayoom Mir& Sajad Ahmad Bhat
Date:
   

Kashmir’s houseboats, popular among tourists for being unique to the region, are facing an unprecedented crisis amid legal battles to attain renovation permissions and the government’s “beautification” efforts.

Houseboat owners say the industry is headed towards a possible “extinction”. The number of houseboats has declined from thousands in the 1980s to 750 at present, as per the Houseboat Association of Kashmir.  

Manzoor Ahmed Pakhtoon, president of the association, said, “We need to go to the courts to get permission for repairs. Then the department of tourism and Jammu and Kashmir Lake Conservation and Management Authority conduct surveys – and the process goes on for about a year before we get the renovation permissions. By this time, the houseboats that need urgent repair are already destroyed.”

Notably, in 1988, the Farooq Abdullah-led administration in Kashmir banned the building of new houseboats and the repair and renovation of the existing ones citing pollution. 

Pakhtoon said there is a need for a “single-window system” for houseboats.

Nazir Ahmad Kawdari, who has been making houseboats for 42 years and has been in the business for generations, said he barely gets any work now. “Houseboats take at least a year to be built. There is a 75 percent decline in the business. LCMA authorities hinder the repair work, asking for money.”

Another local said there is no policy to aid houseboat owners, and the region is staring at “cultural erosion”.

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