Tourists to the holy city suddenly found themselves wandering in search of a hotel room when owners of 'illegal hotels', where they were staying, asked them to checkout by 12pm on Monday - stating that they are on strike and have to shutdown their hotels.
Owners of the so-called illegal hotels, including two 'sarais' (inns) run by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which have been issued a 72-hour deadline to shutdown their establishments by the Amritsar municipal corporation, on Monday pulled down their shutters in protest against the MC decision.
The owners condemned the Punjab government for adopting "double standards" as far as promoting tourism and hospitality industry in Amritsar was concerned.
The notices were issued to the hotel owners on Saturday on behalf of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted following the orders of the Punjab and Haryana high court to look into the matter of the illegal hotels.
The illegal hotel owners pulled down their shutters after the checkout time - 12pm - was over. "As 12pm is the checkout time, we requested tourists staying at our hotels to checkout so that we could close our hotels and hold a strike," said Surinder Singh, president of the Amritsar Hotel Association.
The strike has caused inconvenience to tourists, who have booked rooms with these hotels, but are forced to checkout - most of them are wandering where to go.
A family from Gurgaon, comprising mainly senior citizens, who has come here to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, are among the tourists affected by the hoteliers' strike.
The family said they were facing several difficulties here and were yet to get return tickets to Gurgaon. "We do not know when the train reservation will be available. We are left with no choice, but wait," said Krishna Sahana, from Gurgaon.
"It pains us a lot to put tourists in such inconvenience, but we have to go by the association's decision to make the government realise its double standards," said Pritpal Singh Sethi, hotelier and general secretary of the hotel association.
According to Parminder Singh, another hotelier, the SIT was constituted to inquire into the status of illegal hotels in and outside the walled city area. "Ironically, the illegal hotels in Civil Lines areas have not been touched yet," he said.
"On the one hand, the government proposes measures to enhance tourism and hospitality in the city; on the other, it resorts to anti-tourism policies," he said.
The Punjab Human Rights Organisation (PHRO) had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2010 in this connection. Once operating as shops and residences, these were converted into hotels by their owners for big profit considering high footfall of pilgrims and tourists. However, a majority of these establishments lack parking place, while others encroached upon the footpath. These hotels also lack commercial sewerage connections and have been using domestic sewage with limited capacity. Above all, the hotels lack registration under the Serai Act.
A survey conducted by the MC in 2013 found nearly 400 hotels and 40 under-construction hotels were operating while violating the HC orders and proposed action against such establishments. However, the civic body failed to keep its date with the illegal hotels. Besides, the action against these hotels, the MC had also proposed action against the erring officials at the municipal town planning (MTP) department with whose connivance the violations took place. However, some portions of a few hotels were razed last year in the name of action against these structures.
Court orders violated
While the Punjab and Haryana high court had issued directions that no new building plans should be sanctioned till further orders, fresh constructions came up on the periphery of the Golden Temple allegedly in connivance with the MTP department officials in gross violation of the HC orders.
Following the orders of the high court, the Punjab government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the matter. The SIT, headed by Rahul Tiwari, principal secretary to deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, included Amritsar deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat and chief administrator, Amritsar Development Authority, Sandeep Rishi.
Illegal hotels identified
The SIT identified 131 illegal establishments around the Golden Temple, which the MC confirmed. The next hearing in connection with the illegal hotels is on August 22. Six months ago, the MC had issued speaking orders to these hotels to rectify the violations as per the building by-laws or face action.
However, in July, the MC House gave its nod to the proposal to implement old building by-laws dating back 1976, which was expected to offer relief to the hoteliers. In another meeting in August, the MC House urged the government to seek legal opinion in this regard. A few days later, it served a 72-hours sealing notices to these establishments, which brought them on the warpath.
Amritsar deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagat said, "Nearly 125 hotels around the Golden Temple and Galliara have come up in violation to the existing building by-laws and have been seeking regularisation under the old by-laws. The court will take a decision in this regard."
Mayor Bakshi Ram Arora said the MC had issued notices to the hoteliers on behalf of the SIT. "The hoteliers were asked to fix the violations or face action through notices issued previously," he said.