JK's Agriculture Land Shrinking Fast

30 May 2014
Greater Kashmir
Yogesh Sagotra

Jammu: Due to mounting population growth and escalating urbanization, agricultural land in Jammu and Kashmir is shrinking fast and has been reduced to 7 lakh hectares against 10 lakh hectares in 1995-96. According to economic survey, out of JK's total land area of 24.16 lakh hectares, 10 lakh hectares were under agriculture production during 1995-96. It has been reduced to just around 7 lakh hectares in 2013, the survey states. According to experts, non-creation of Special Agriculture Zones (SAZ) and absence of an institutionalized monitoring mechanism in the state have facilitated illegal conversion of agriculture land for residential and commercial purposes. Expressing helplessness in checking wanton land conversion, the state's Agriculture Department shifts the blame on the Revenue Department for allowing illegitimate land-use change. According to officials in the Agriculture Department, the land which once used to be the source of high-yield crops is today occupied by housing colonies, commercial complexes, banquet halls, farm houses and residential buildings. They said that the boundaries of the twin capital cities of the state have extended deep into the villages thereby posing a grave threat to agriculture which caters to the livelihood of at least 80 percent of the state's population, directly or indirectly. To check the unabated land-conversion, state government in 2011, setup a committee headed by the Minister for Horticulture to review a bill aimed at imposing a ban on the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. However, the bill is still to be finalized, official sources said. 'The government should have initiated some stern measures to check the rapid conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes, but unfortunately, the Agriculture Department has no say in the Land Conversion Act as the matter falls under the purview of the Revenue Department,' Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir said. The minister attributes massive land conversion to the 'wrongdoings' of revenue department officials. Mir said the state government should work towards creation of Special Agriculture Zones (SAZ) as has been done by the states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. He said SAZs are exclusively earmarked for agriculture activity and not for any other purpose.