Srinagar, Nov 13: A devastating fire that swept through Dal Lake early on Saturday, claiming the lives of three Bangladeshi tourists and destroying five houseboats, has reignited calls for a comprehensive houseboat policy to safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Kashmir.
The incident has brought to light the fragility of these iconic structures, which have been an integral part of Srinagar’s landscape for over a century.
The Houseboat Owners’ Association (HBOA) has sounded the alarm, revealing that since 2010, around 750 houseboats have fallen into disrepair, leaving only an estimated 750 remaining today. The association expresses deep concern over the lack of government action and emphasizes the urgent need for a strategic plan to ensure the survival of these historic marvels.
In response to the tragic incident, the Tourism Department dispatched officials to the site immediately, offering support and assistance. The fire, which occurred near Ghat No 9, not only claimed lives but also caused extensive damage to seven residential huts in the vicinity. Concerns about the future of Kashmir’s houseboats have intensified as a series of fire incidents and natural disasters continue to plague the region.
Challenges such as environmental management issues and a government-imposed ban on renovations and maintenance have further raised questions about the long-term survival of these cultural treasures. President Tenga expressed his distress, stating, “This unfortunate incident has not only taken a toll on the heritage of our houseboats but has also shattered the lives of those directly affected.”
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI) has joined the chorus of concern, standing in solidarity with the affected families and urging the Government of Jammu & Kashmir to expedite the reconstruction process. The organisation has specifically called for the swift approval of permissions for rebuilding the gutted houseboats and the immediate supply of suitable-quality timber to aid in the reconstruction efforts.
Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya, Patron of the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kashmir (CCIK), expressed profound grief over the loss of lives and property. In a statement, Chaya emphasized the pain and agony experienced by the victim’s families and called for collective efforts from the government and the community to preserve the rich cultural heritage embodied by Kashmir’s iconic houseboats.
As the investigation into the fire incident continues, the urgency for a comprehensive houseboat policy becomes increasingly apparent. The tragic event serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of these historic structures and underscores the need for collaborative efforts to prevent such occurrences in the future.