SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir's famed houseboats were the focus of a unique protest here Monday with dozens of owners moving around in shikaras (boats) on the Jhelum river against the government's decision to de-register damaged houseboats.
Houseboat owners carrying black flags and shouting slogans moved in the shikaras, wooden boats unique to Kashmir, on the Jhelum river circling the city.
"We are equally concerned with the beautification of Jhelum River, but the authorities have decided not to allow us repair our old houseboats. They have said 42 houseboats will be de-registered classifying them as shabby houseboats," said Muhammad Azim Tuman, chairperson of the local houseboat owners association.
He said the government's compensation of Rs.3 lakh and three marlas, about 75 sq m, of land was inadequate.
The houseboats, he said, were registered in 1977. In 1982, the government banned new construction of houseboats, but existing houseboats were allowed to be repaired and reconstructed. There are about 500 houseboats operational in the Jhelum and the Dal and Nageen lakes.
"Now the authorities are telling us no repair or reconstruction of houseboats will be allowed. With such official apathy, we fear there won't be any houseboats either in the Jhelum River or the Dal and Nigeen Lakes in the city after 20 years," said Tuman.
State government officials say houseboats a major source of pollution in the lakes and the river.
"There are high court orders on this. We have to follow the directives. There is a chalked out procedure for houseboat repair and the owners will have to follow the laid down procedure," said an official of the local tourism department here.
Houseboats, known as floating palaces, are a major tourist attraction in Srinagar city. They accommodate high-end tourists, honeymooners and budget holiday makers who flock to this picturesque hill city.