Indian-administered Kashmir is reeling under a fresh crisis. At least 250 hotels have been ordered shut for failing to comply with pollution control norms, throwing the popular winter sports season out of gear.
Commercial operations in 140 hotels in the provincial capital Srinagar, 90 in the tourist town of Gulmarg and 20 in Pahalgam have come to a halt as they have not installed the mandatory sewage treatment plants, said a report in The Hindu newspaper.
The Pollution control board (PCB) sealed the hotels following a court order during the course of hearing on the issue of implementing sewage treatment norms.
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The winter season in Kashmir is much awaited around the world as it is time for the sporting season. A three-day winter sports conclave is already on and concludes on Wednesday. Many more are scheduled in the days ahead.
The newspaper, quoting a prominent hotelier and a key member of the hotel's associations Faiz Ahmed Bakshi, said the dramatic closure of hotels in Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam over the last week has created a panic.
Tourists who were already in the hotels were dragged out, he said. Many have cancelled their bookings and are looking to go to neighbouring states like Himachal Pradesh where winter tourism is popular.
Under federal pollution control norms, only hotels with 20 or more rooms need to have a sewage treatment plant. In this conflict-hit state, the government relaxed the norms for hotels up to 35 rooms.
The High Court came down heavily on this concession with the result that those who were enjoying the benefits of the concession have now been told to implement the pollution controls norms or shut operations.
Among the hotels closed are those who were not eligible for the concession yet had not installed sewage treatment plants on their premises.
Those who favour the implementation of pollution control argue that when owners can spend a few millions on setting up the hotels, why can't they expend a small percentage of it for treating effluents.
Hotel owners meanwhile are planning to appeal to the court against the closure and say they are confident of getting justice done quickly, before the winter season runs out.
Kashmir, which is the bone of dispute between India and Pakistan has been wracked by heightened separatist violence since 1989. The levels of violence have dipped somewhat in recent years making it possible for civilian activity in the valley to resume.