Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Centaur Hotel Srinagar

Rashid paints a grim picture of the transfer of the Government of India owned Centaur Hotel to a privately owned company. In reality it is a hopeful sign and will set the tone for future private sector investments in the valley

(Mr. Rashid Paul, 40, was born at Ompora, near Budgam. He has a master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He has worked as a senior correspondent on numerous valley based dailies. He follows business and economy, conflict, environment and power beats. He is also a documentary film maker.)

Kashmir Set to Lose Priced Centaur Lakeview Hotel

Srinagar: Granted against a rental of Rs 3220 per acre and a license fee of Re one only, the priceless 17 acre Centaur Lakeview Hotel (CLH) of Kashmir has been handed over by Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) to a Mumbai-based company.

Built in 1982 as a joint venture scheme between the J&K government and the HCI, the CLH, a prestigious asset of Kashmir, has been slyly given on contract management basis to BD&P Hotels, a Mumbai-based private party for 30 years.

The deal was executed at Mumbai on September 15 and ‘Kashmir Images’ has been able to obtain a copy of the agreement.

The arrangement will bring annual revenue of Rs two crores to HCI, a subsidiary of the Indian Airlines, one of the major loss-making Government of India enterprises.

The deal is contrary to the provisions of the March 10, 1982 joint venture agreement and is perceived as part of wider plan to divest Kashmir of its prime assets.

According to the 28-year-old agreement, a copy of which is with this newspaper, the CLH, the Sher-i-Kashmir Conference Center and Common facilities of the project were constructed at Kabootar Khana Cheshmaishahi, with a view to develop tourism, encourage inflow of capital into J&K, and provide more job opportunities to its permanent residents. It was decided that the complex structure shall be jointly constructed by the state and the HCI.

The parties jointly invested in the project with J&K contributing a capital of Rs eight crores and the HCI nearly 21 crores. The state also leased the prized land measuring 13 acres to the HCI at a paltry rental of Rs 3220 and a license fee of Rs one only for a period of 99 years.

J&K government was too generous in providing an additional land of 31 kanals and nine malras under khasra number 3511 in the naturally refined environs of Cheshmaishahi to the HCl for accommodation of its staffers.

Clause 9 of the agreement explicitly vests the ownership rights of the structure with the parties on an equal basis. The use whereof shall be determined by the parties by mutual understanding, says the clause.

None of the officials from the rank of the Director to the Tourism Minister were available for comment as they are reportedly busy at London in connection with the Kashmir Mart festival.

Vehemently opposing handing over of the CLH, president, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Kashmir, Siraj Ahmed said, “It is an attempt to divest Kashmir of its land and assets. The state government has either a tacit hand in the deal or is in deep sleep. The deal should be scrapped forthwith and local players roped in.”

Rupees 12 crores have been received as advance payment by Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) from BD&P Hotels for leasing to it the prized asset of Kashmir, the Centaur Lakeview Hotel (CLH).

The deal struck while Kashmir was reeling under continued strikes and curfews in past five months, will benefit HCI by Rs 60 crores and Kashmir by a yearly rental of Rs 400 per kanal for its 221 kanals of land under the hotel (Rs 88,400 as year to be precise).

According the documents available with ‘Kashmir Images’, the BD&P Hotels which will be running the CLH under the garb of “contract management” for 30 years has made an advance payment of Rs 12 crores to the HCL.

A payment of Rs 10 crores has been advanced under cheque number 218697 in favor of HCI Ltd. towards interest-free security deposit. HCI also received a sum of Rs two crores by way of cheque number 218699 towards minimum yearly rent payable in advance.
The HCI shall receive a sum of Rs 60 crores from the BD&P Hotels for the next 30 years and the J&K has to be satisfied at with a rental fixed at approximately Rs 400 per kanal for the land under the use of the CLH.

It is mentionable that CLH and SKICC were constructed jointly by HCI and J&K government in 1982 to boost tourism and ease inflow of wealth into the state. Some 221 kanals of precious land were leased for 99 years to HCI, a subsidiary of Indian Airlines.

Non-serious attitude of the successive state governments seems to be the factor that allowed the loss of this precious land and hotel to a non-state entity.

In 2004 when Indian Airlines was on a selling spree of its assets, it asked the state government to take over the CLH. A price tag of Rs 80 crores was fixed. However, the then state government on December 27, 2005 expressed its disinterest in taking over the CLH.

Later in October 2007, the HCI asked the state government to provide a no-objection certificate to dispose off the property as per its desire.

The minds of the people at the helm in the state kept on vacillating and in 2009 the then SKICC Director wrote a letter (SKICC/PS/10/104-07) to the state Chief Minister about the significance of acquiring the CLH and attaching it as per international practice with the SKICC.

It is reported that the government evinced its interest in taking over the Hotel. However, one fails to understand what prevented the state from allowing the HCI to enter a deal with a non-state firm.

Commenting on the issue, president, Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, said that subletting CLH under the guise of “contract management” is averse to the basic industrial policy of the state.

“Many an industrial houses have invested in the state and they have been provided lands in the industrial estates here. Once they sublet their units, the lease automatically becomes void,” he said.

He also said the state government is planning eviction of local shopkeepers occupying subleased structures. “One wonders why it is not acting on sub-leasing a valued asset like Centaur?”

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