The state government has failed to stop conversion of the agricultural land for commercial and residential purposes resulting in considerable decline in agriculture production in Kashmir.
Officials of agriculture department said in the last six years over 20 percent of the agricultural land has been converted for commercial and residential purposes.
From the 1.6 lakh hectares of land under paddy cultivation, it has now shrunk to 1.4 lakh hectares across Kashmir while the land under wheat cultivation has declined to 82000 hectares from nearly 1 lakh hectares six years back, official records reveal.
The previous NC-Congress coalition government had brought the bill, Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition on Conversion of Agricultural land into non-Agricultural purposes in 2011, but after the concern raised by the members in the state legislature it was referred to the Joint Select Committee. The bill has lapsed now due to the dissolution of the previous House.
However, State’s Law Minister, Syed Bashart Bukhari said: “We plan to bring in stringent legal measures to prohibit the conversions.”
A senior government official said under the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act, the conversion of agricultural land into commercial and residential purposes is being prohibited. “The Act provides that government will have to demolish the property and restore the original status of the land. We have already demolished many of the structures in Srinagar, but the conversions have been rampant,” he added.
However, it is not only the public which has converted the agriculture land into the commercial purposes, but the government has itself resorted to ‘illegality’.
Director Rakhs and Farms, A R Samoon said: “The revenue authorities have to implement the law about the conversion of the land and we have conveyed to them that it is a matter of serious concern.”
A government report prepared by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics over the conversion has noted: “The agricultural land over the years has shrunk due to construction of housing colonies, establishment of new universities and colleges and development of railway track on the land.”
A senior government official said no action has been taken over the conversion of the agricultural land which is rampant in all major districts of Kashmir region including Anantang, Baramulla and Budgam.
Additional Deputy Commissioner, Budgam, Manzoor Ahmad Qadri said: “The matter is being monitored by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and we are constantly updating the court about the action taken in the matter.”
A senior government official said: “The conversion of the land has taken place not only in Srinagar city, but is rampant in rural areas where the master plans have not been framed to identify the land use patterns. The government doesn’t have a policy; it expands roads and shifts people from the roadside and they have no choice but to construct houses on the land used for agricultural production.”
Officials admit that the shrinking of the agricultural land is major challenge and in Srinagar city the previous NC-Congress coalition government had proposed vertical expansion of the city so that the trend could be arrested.
Samoon said in Kashmir due to disinclination for the vertical expansion, the stress on the agricultural land is high, which is a prime reason for its conversion for other uses.
The trend is disturbing as the state banks highly on the agricultural sector for providing employment to the people. The agriculture and allied sectors play a prominent role for development of economy of Jammu and Kashmir and over 70 percent of the population here gets livelihood from the agriculture and allied sectors.
“It is primarily due to the conversion of the land that we have to depend on the outside states and import food grains,” said an official. As per government records, there is a huge gap between the production of food grains and the consumption in the state and over seven lakh metric tons of food grains have to be imported every year to meet the shortage.