Jammu and Kashmir remains dependent as ever on agriculture but has been struggling to hold on to its diminishing farmland.
From over 10 lakh hectares in 1995-96,the total agricultural land in the state has fallen progressively to under 9 lakh hectares in 2010-11,according to provisional figures for the 2010-11 agricultural census. This year,Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told the legislative council the current figure is 7.36 lakh hectares arable agricultural land.
As it is,Kashmirs hilly terrain means a very small proportion of its 2.22 lakh sq km (222 lakh hectares) is under agriculture,a feature of the plains. Yet the livelihood of 70 per cent of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture and allied sectors,according to the state economic survey report for 2012-2013.
The loss of agricultural land to urbanisation has raised alarm bells but solutions have been elusive. In 2011,the government set up a committee under the horticulture minister to review a bill that would address specifically a ban on the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes,but the bill remains to be finalised.
Experts feel it is pointless to have such a specific law since existing laws already have provisions against such conversion. There is no need to create new laws, says Sheikh Showkat Hussain,who teaches law at Central University of Kashmir. What is needed is strict implementation of the existing laws to curb this phenomenon. He stresses a need for updating the existing laws. There should be an automatic mechanism through which the penalties and fines under the existing laws are increased in accordance with inflation rates.
In April 2012,the J&K High Court passed directions against the misuse of agricultural land following a public-interest litigation by a non-governmental organisation. It directed all deputy commissioners to ensure the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act are implemented to stop the conversion of agricultural land.
The change of land use is widely attributed to the movement of people from rural to urban centres,horizontal and unplanned construction,accommodation of security forces and poor coordination between government departments.
On the outskirts of Srinagar city,sprawling residential colonies have cropped up over the years. Hyderpora,Bemina,Pirbagh,Sanatnagar,Rawalpora,Narbal,Zainakoot are standing examples of conversion since the early 2000s. Similar colonies have been coming up in rural townships too. The land being converted includes that under saffron,a feature of Kashmir famous worldwide.
Agricultural production has increased over time,but it has obviously not kept pace with the corresponding increase in demand. Rice production was 5,50,000 tonnes in 2012-13,up from 3,60,000 in 2003-04,while maize rose to 1,65,000 tonnes from 90,000,according to figures provided by the agriculture directorate.
Yet agriculture has been contributing less and less to the state economy. It accounted for 21.19 per cent of the gross state domestic product in 2011-12,down from 28.06 per cent,in 2004-05 (at constant prices),according to the 2012-13 economic survey.
Kashmir division alone has an annual requirement of 11.90 lakh tonnes foodgrains against an annual production of 7.71 lakh tonnes,the deficit of 4.19 lakh tonnes being met by imports. The gap can only get wider with the population,12.54 million as per the 2011 census,rising at 23.71 per cent per decade.
We can do nothing as the agriculture department is only concerned with agricultural production, says director for agriculture Mushtaq Ahmad Shah. It is the revenue department that has to ensure the protection of agricultural land from conversion.
In circumstances when construction is permitted on any land,the no-objection certificate is granted by the revenue department. The agriculture department too should be involved,for advice and suggestions, says theagriculture director.
Revenue Minister Aijaz Ahmad Khan acknowledges conversion of agricultural land has been taking place but stresses checks are in place. We have taken note of this and at some places stopped the conversion of agricultural land, he says. I have directed all deputy commissioners to ensure no land law is violated in their areas.
Apart from commercialisation,there has also been a shift of farmers from agriculture to horticulture. According to estimates by the agriculture department,around 20,000 hectares of agricultural land has been converted for horticulture since 2005.