IT is now more than three months since Centaur Lakeview Hotel Srinagar has been sealed and taken over by the Government of J&K. For more than a year, the hotel had been earning Rs 2.50 Crore revenue every month on an average but now this is not the case at all. The hotel is sealed, all the rooms are locked and even the supplies that had been purchased to run the hotel kitchen are almost rotting in the store rooms.
160 employees of this hotel are protesting and demanding justice. These employees say that they were forcibly evicted by the Jammu & Kashmir Government on June 14th this year. Since then, the hotel has been sealed. The employees say that they are being sandwiched between this tussle as their future seems dark.
Centaur Hotel Srinagar is owned by Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) , which is a Govt of India Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The J&K Government alleges that the Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) violated the lease agreement conditions by allowing a third party to take control of the hotel more than 10 years back. Centaur Hotel Srinagar was constructed in early 1980s near Dal lake Srinagar. It was a joint venture between the J & K Government and Hotel Corporation of India. The Jammu & Kashmir Government under cabinet order No. 237 dated 25.06.1979 leased out Govt land measuring around 13 acres ( 104 kanals) located near Kabootar Khana Boulevard Road Srinagar to the Hotel Corporation of India. This was followed by a Government order number 118 of 1981 dated 17th October 1981. On March 10th, 1982 a formal lease agreement was executed between J&K Govt and Hotel Corporation of India (HCI).
The construction work on the hotel began in 1982 and within a few years the 252 rooms 5 star hotel was made operational. The hotel started its operations by the end of 1984. As per the terms and conditions in the lease agreement the ownership rights over the structure on the land were to be equally held by the both parties.
Violation of Lease Agreement , LG Act
The Jammu & Kashmir government alleges that the Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) has violated the lease agreement and the J&K Land Grants Act, 1960 by sub-letting the premises to a third party without consent from the Government. This is true to some extent ,HCI tried to give management a contract to a Mumbai based company DB Realty in 2010. But the employees during that time had resisted that move and even went to the court. The said agreement was cancelled later on. This author had a detailed conversation with Ghulam Hyder, a senior member of Centaur Hotel Employees Association. He said that employees were being targeted for none of their fault.
“In 2010 a management contract between the Hotel Corporation of India and the Mumbai-based DB Realty had been signed wherein HCI intended to ensure better management of the hotel and to undertake some repairs and renovations to make the property more attractive. We the employees of the hotel had raised our voice against the said management contract as we apprehended that our jobs were not secure once a private company would take up the hotel operations. We even moved to High Court & apprised the then state Government. The HCI in 2011 terminated the contract. Centaur Hotel Srinagar was earning Rs 2.50 Crore as revenue every month and out of this Rs 17 lakhs the hotel management paid as electricity bill. Now that seems like history”, said Ghulam Hyder, a senior employee of the hotel.
Taking over Centaur Hotel
On 25th April 2022, the Government served notice to Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) , Centaur Hotel Srinagar. According to the notice, J&K Government charged the Hotel Corporation of India of violating the lease agreement conditions by subletting the Hotel to a third party. It is pertinent to mention that in pursuant to the cabinet decision No. 237 dated 25.06.1979, the then State Government vide Govt order No.118 of 1981 dated 17.10.1981 leased out a piece of land measuring 13 acres to the Hotel Corporation of India Pvt Ltd. for a period of 99 years and accordingly a lease agreement was executed on 10.03.1982. The terms and conditions in the agreement stipulated that the ownership rights over the structure on the land shall be equally held by the parties, the use whereof shall be determined by the parties by mutual undertakings and it was also agreed that for matters not covered by the agreement the laws of the J&K State will apply. When the Government took over the Centaur hotel on June 14th after serving the show cause notice in April, the building was sealed completely and all the employees were forcibly evicted as they had lodged a protest inside the hotel premises. The decision of the Government has not only made the future of 160 employees dark but even their families have had to bear the brunt of this decision.
The Government should have first thought about the rehabilitation of these employees before taking any action. Is this the role of the Welfare State?
The order for sealing the Centaur Hotel was issued by local Tehsildar (Executive Magistrate). The order said:
“It is hereby informed that the Centaur Lake View Hotel, Srinagar has been sealed today on 14th June, 2022, under J-K Public premises (eviction of unauthorised occupants Act, 1988) before me under my seal and signature. ” Therefore, no one is allowed to enter the main gate till further orders otherwise stern action shall be taken under prevalent law “
From June 14th onwards, the employees of Centaur Hotel Srinagar have been protesting off and on. They held several demonstrations in Srinagar’s press enclave but it seems the Government isn’t bothered about their future.
When the Government took over the control of Centaur Hotel Srinagar, the Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) moved a petition before the Supreme Court of India. The petitioner organisation in its petition before the SC said that HCI is a fully-owned Central Government company under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA). The counsel for Hotel Corporation of India said that the J&K government had terminated the 99-year lease of their hotel without giving a show cause notice. The petition reads:
“The state authorities have started the eviction process and this action would render the employees of the hotel functioning on the banks of Dal lake unemployed. The State authorities started the eviction proceedings. This would bring the functioning of the hotel with 250 rooms and a similar number of employees to a halt”
Before moving the petition in Supreme Court, the HCI had filed a case in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir who disposed of the petition saying that Hotel Corporation of India could approach the District Magistrate Srinagar (appellate authority) against the action of the State government. Pertinently, the District Magistrate is the Appellate Authority under the J&K Land Grants Act 1960. The HCI moved to the Supreme Court when the District Magistrate Srinagar didn’t give any relief to them. The Supreme Court forwarded the case to J&K High Court. For the last few months, the high court has listed the case several times and now the order has been reserved which might be announced around October.
I am personally unable to understand why the Government raised the issue of Centaur Hotel lease agreement after around 12 years even as the said agreement was cancelled way back in 2011 when the employees themselves had protested over the same and even went to High Court. On one hand, the Govt wants to promote tourism in Jammu & Kashmir and the hotel which was earning a revenue of Rs 2.50 Crores per month has been shut down. Some of the officers of the Central Government departments who are permanently stationed in this hotel are supplied food from outside and the Govt seems to be least bothered about the future of 160 employees and their families. Centaur hotel Srinagar was not only earning revenue for itself but the salaries of many employees working in Centaur’s Delhi units would also get support from Srinagar. The power department would get a revenue of Rs 17 lakhs per month and that too has now stopped. This summer we had a huge tourist rush in Kashmir and in three months Centaur Hotel Srinagar would have earned huge revenue , more than what it was earning already.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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