Spending a couple of nights on a wooden houseboat in Kashmir is a part of many people’s wishlist. These houseboats boast of lush carpets, beautiful glass lamps and serve Kashmiri meals for tourists. There are around 950 houseboats in Kashmir.
Tourism is a vital part of the valley’s economy. But, since government imposed a lockdown after abrogating Article 370 in August 2019, Kashmir hasn’t welcomed many tourists. Around 5 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in 2019 and about 8.5 lakh last year.
This sudden fall of tourists has hit houseboat owners badly. These owners would set aside around Rs 50,000 every year for maintaining houseboat’s bottom. But these last 18 months have not been very kind to houseboat owners. It has become very hard for these families who rely on incomes earned by their houseboat to survive.
There is also a lack of support from government to these houseboat owners. The Jammu and Kashmir administration announced a Rs 1,350-crore in September package to support pandemic hit economy. However, the package was tiny considering losses of various sectors due to pandemic. Every houseboat owner was given Rs 1,000 per month for three months. Houseboat owners complain that this amount was highly insufficient.
Srinagar witnessed season’s first snowfall on December 12. However, this snowfall turned out to be a disaster for houseboat owners. Three houseboats sunk into water in a single night. One of these boats sunken belonged to Fayaz Ahmad Badyari who is a third-generation owner of houseboat. He was aware that his boat needed repairing but there were reasons behind his inability to perform the task. There were some planks in the bottom of his houseboat which needed to be repaired.
He says that he can’t change these planks because he is struggling financially. Moreover, even if he had resources to change planks, the authorities would have confiscated his timber planks and punish him as there is a ban on houseboat repairs. The Jammu and Kashmir government banned houseboat repairing in 2012 following J&K High Court’s orders. These restrictive orders were passed considering pollution caused by houseboats in the Dal lake. Houseboat owners are afraid that this is just tip of the iceberg and many more houseboats will be sunk down if a heavy snowfall takes place.