Rashid Paul

HC directs admin to take ‘conscious decision’ on renewal of lease deeds of Gulmarg hoteliers

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Srinagar: With administration sitting over the lease deed extension applications of scores of Kashmiri hoteliers in Gulmarg, the High Court Friday directed the administration to take a conscious decision on the matter.

In the ski tourist resort of Gulmarg almost all the land stands leased out mostly to the local hoteliers. Under a “government policy” to develop tourism-related infrastructure, the land was initially leased out for a period of 40 years, which was extendable to a maximum of 99 years.

The extension to lease used to be granted as a matter of course until and unless there was breach or violations on the terms and conditions of the lease.

The lease deeds of most of the owners of the hotels have expired. But their renewal or extension is not being considered by the government, the High Court was apprised of by the concerned lawyers of the parties today.

The matter has been kept in a cold storage, with the result almost all hotels are being run on land with expired lease, appreciated the court.

Accordingly it directed “the UT authorities to take a conscious decision with regard to the renewal of lease deeds which have already expired in accordance with the policy which was in vogue when the leases were granted”.

A division bench including Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice M Akram Choudhary, which passed the direction, said it expects a decision (on extensions) is taken by the UT government most expeditiously, preferably within three months.

Pertinently, most of these hoteliers are also unable to carry out repairs of their business units, as the Building Operation Controlling Authority (BOCA) of Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) has not been allowing it — the reason being given that their leases have expired.

The hoteliers plead that since their lease extensions and renewals are pending consideration, they are not unauthorized occupants of the land.

They claim being tenants by holding over, they cannot be evicted from their respective lands and can not to be evicted unless paid compensation for the raised structures.

Chief Justice Mithal and Justice Chowdhary appreciating the argument said “hotel owners have entered possession of the land on the strength of lease deeds and are not unauthorized occupants. They are running hotels after raising the super structures which requires repairs with the passage of time and for improvement of hotel facilities.”

They cannot be denied such repairs as it would tantamount to interfering with their right to business, said the judges.

In the facts and circumstances of the case, they directed the Building Operation Controlling Authority (BOCA) of Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) to consider the applications for repairs and constructions.

But the action has strictly to be in accordance with law.

Once consideration is accorded by the BOCA, the applicants have been asked to seek the approval of the court.

The repairs and construction that would be raised at any of the land would be subject to the ultimate decision on the extension and renewal of lease by the government, the court said.

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