Pahalgam: Scores of illegally constructed hotels, huts and guest houses are operating under the nose of the authorities in Yanner area of famous tourist spot, Pahalgam in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
Dozens of these commercial establishments constructed illegally by the politically well connected people on the banks of Lidder River during last several years have been carrying out commercial operations without giving a damn to the legal norms.
It is happening despite the tourism department had denied these hoteliers’ licenses to operate their business while as authorities had also declared their establishments illegal.
“Most of these hotels and huts belong either to politicians and bureaucrats or to their kin and cohorts. That is why the authorities meant to keep watch on the tourism related commercial activities don’t dare to touch them,” said a source in the tourism department.
Yanner is a picturesque spot on the banks of Lidder located nine kilometers from Pahalgam. On their way to Pahalgam tourists spend some time at the spot to enjoy its enchanting beauty.
It was in 2010 after the high court imposed ban on the constructions in Pahalgam that the ‘land brokers’ shifted their focus towards Yanner.
They bought the government land from the locals on throw away prices and then sold it to businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians and their kin, who in turn constructed huge hotels and huts on the banks of Lidder river.
The illegal practice continues despite the officials of the flood control department in their report submitted to high court said that most of these commercial establishments are within the radius of 100 meters from the middle of the river- hence illegal.
The authorities had later brought the area within the ambit of Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) to save the scenic spot from turning into a concrete colony.
But, politically connected people continue with the construction of commercial establishments near the spot.
Local residents who are concerned about the environmental degradation around the spot due to unabated constructions told The Kashmir Press that even the top officials of the tourism department are helpless before these influential hoteliers doing illegal commercial activities.
What concerns the environmental activists more is that these illegal hotels and huts are carrying on with their business at the cost of the fragile environs of the area.
“Since most of these hotels don’t have sewage treatment plants (STPs). All the waste produced from them on daily basis is emptied into Lidder thus polluting the crystal clear waters of the river,” said a local youth, Mohammad Ishaq.
Registered hoteliers in Pahalgam have also questioned the silence of the tourism authorities over the illegal business by the hoteliers at Yanner.
“These illegal hoteliers cheat the tourists through their websites showing the spot as main Pahalgam. In Pahalgam the registered hoteliers keep on waiting for tourists but these illegal hoteliers, ten kms away from Pahalgam have bookings almost on daily basis. One wonders how the authorities are promoting the illegal tourism at the cost of livelihood of registered hoteliers associated with the industry for decades,” said an owner of the registered hotel in Pahalgam.
Assistant director tourism, Pahalgam, Ms Zahida did not respond to the repeated phone calls from The Kashmir Press.
However, a lower rung tourism official said that the local tourism authorities have written to all the higher ups conveying them about the illegal commercial activities by these unregistered hotels.
“These hoteliers are all big guns. Top authorities seem to have given them free hand. At local level we can’t go for action against them as they enjoy both bureaucratic and political patronage. Whenever any official at local level tried to stop their illegal business there was always political intrusion,” the official told The Kashmir Press.
Secretary Tourism Rigzin Symphal told The Kashmir Press that he will direct the concerned officials to act immediately against the people who are violating the norms. “Whoever is seen violating the norms, action will be taken against him.”