Conversion of Agricultural land goes unabated in Kashmir

Conversion of Agricultural Land

Srinagar: The conversion of agricultural land for commercial purposes is increasing at an alarming rate throughout Kashmir valley and ironically, government officials are turning a blind eye to ignore the issue.

At a time when the National Food Security Act (NFSA) has been implemented in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, whereby every ration card holder is going to get only five kilogram of rice per month, the rice fields in Kashmir are shrinking by transformation of agriculture land for the construction of hotels, shopping malls and residential houses.

Due to the increased economic activity nowadays, the land conversion remains unchecked.

Gowhar Nabi Bhat, a student of Environmental Science from Baramulla says, “We are an agrarian society, so we need to put curbs on such a persistent practice.”

“A threat is looming large as Kashmir shall be without staple food in future if the practice continues. It has raised a number of questions,” he added.

“The quantity of rice import has already been under intense pressure as the subsidized rates are under cut,” says a research scholar, Firdous Dar.

He suggested that government should implement High Court orders in letter and spirit and stop people from conversion of agricultural land.

Some people alleged that in valley, where most of the productive land has been converted into residential areas, officials of Revenue Department are “hand-in-glove” with those involved in the illegal practice.

“The officials have given permission to the people to build roads through the agriculture land which has also led to increase in conversion,” said Manzoor Ahmad, a resident of Baramulla.

Laws should be implemented strictly and guilty should be taken to task if conversion of agricultural land is to be stopped, he said.

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Kashmir has witnessed a steady conversion of farmland for non-agricultural use over the past three decades.

In the last six years alone, about 25% of agricultural land has been converted for commercial or residential purposes in district Baramulla only.

This has had a direct effect on agricultural productivity in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. According to Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report 2014-2015, the estimated contribution of agriculture to State Gross Domestic Product (GSDP) has fallen from 28% in 2004-2005 to 17%. The shortfall in food grains, which was 32% in 1950-51, is now 82 %.

The survey goes on to note that, while 70% of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture, the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture has declined from 85% in 1961, to 28%. Farmers have not found any other work, leading to disguised unemployment, due to the absence of a viable industrial and services sector.

The lack of industry or services sector and rapid urbanization in Kashmir are linked due to the conflict of the last two and a half decades. Due to militancy and counter-insurgency operations, the rural areas were the most unsafe. People from rural areas fled to urban areas, principally Srinagar, for safety.

According to J&K Economic Survey 2014-2015, the largest urban area is in Srinagar district where 98.6% of people live in urban areas, followed by Jammu district with 50%.

In 2011, a London based City Mayors Foundation came out with a ranking of the fastest growing urban areas in the world and Srinagar ranked 92 out of the top 300 such urban areas.

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In 2012, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court passed directions against the misuse of agricultural land following Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by a non-government organization. The court directed all Deputy Commissioners to ensure the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act (JKAA) and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act (JKLRA) are enforced to stop the conversion of agricultural land.

Unfortunately, these laws have often been violated by the government itself. Across valley, the state government has constructed colleges, offices and even the Srinagar Development Authority on marshy land that once acted as the city’s flood basin.

An official at Revenue Department said, “We are continuously monitoring the situation. But most of the land conversion happens during night hours.”

“People should cooperate with the department so that we can find a solution and take action against the culprits,” he added.

Land Laws in Kashmir:

The first legislation to the Land Revenue Act, drafted to save agriculture land, came into force in 1939. The Act suggested a complete prohibition on conversion of paddy or vegetable lands, floating fields, et cetera into any other use.

Second legislation ‘Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act’ came into force in 1970 to prevent people from converting paddy land into orchards. The Act does not permit conversion of paddy land into orchards and sale of orchards beyond four Kanals without permission.

The Agrarian Reforms Act, imposed in early 1970s restricted utilization of orchards for any other purpose. According to the Act, those orchards that may have ceased to be fit for such use cannot be put to alternative use by the owner without a prior permission by the government.

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