February 2016 News

Vanishing Agriculture Land in Kashmir Valley

18 February 2016
Kashmir Observer

Srinagar: Over the past some years, studies by the J&K government have painted a grim picture of the state of agriculture. An agriculture department survey last year revealed that Kashmir is losing 228 kanals of agriculture land a day. And at this rate, there will be no land to grow crops by 2040. The major reason for this is the unplanned development and rapid urbanization which has led to the construction of residential colonies over the agriculture lands across the Valley. Similarly, according to Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report 2014-15, the estimated percentage contribution of Agriculture and allied sector to State Gross Domestic Product (GSDP) has gone down to 17.49 per cent against the corresponding share of 28.06 per cent in 2004-05 at constant prices. Food grain deficit which in 1950-51 was 32 per cent has now shot up to 81.50 per cent. The diminishing returns from farmlands have too contributed to the problem. The average yield of rice in Kashmir is way below optimum levels at 30-35 quintals per hectare. This has made real estate a more attractive proposition for the people than farming. According to a survey of Agriculture Production Department based on the reports from the field agencies, around 10,000 hectares of the 'net cultivated area' of 3.5 lakh hectares has been converted to non-agriculture use, most of it lost to the illegal and unplanned construction, in which land mafia has had a significant role to play. If the disturbing trend is not arrested, it threatens to confront Kashmir with a serious food crisis in the years to come. More so, when Indus Water Treaty and its limitations on the use of the water from J&K's rivers has severely circumscribed the state's capacity to bring more land under agriculture. Doing so will require withholding some more river water for the irrigation which is barred under the treaty. Under the IWT, the J&K cannot build reservoirs or dams on these rivers without prior approval of Pakistan. Nor can it construct any barrage for irrigation. India's storage entitlement on Sindh, Jhelum and Chenab is just 0.25 MAF, 0.50 MAF and 0.50 MAF respectively. The consequent reduction in the agriculture land has concerned even judiciary. In 2012, J&K High Court passed directions against the misuse of farmland following a Public Interest Litigation by a non-government organization. The court directed all deputy commissioners to ensure the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act are enforced to stop the conversion of agricultural land. But the law has continued to be violated, with government itself one of the culprits. Little has changed on the ground so far, as attested to by this year's agriculture department survey. Meanwhile, the farmland is depleting by the day. Kashmir agriculture is thus haplessly placed. The situation now is such that even as J&K's food-grain production is reported at 4.53 lakh MTs, the state imports about 40 per cent of food grains and 20 percent of vegetables to meet its requirements. This year alone, according to a detailed state government report submitted to the federal government, there has been a monthly shortfall of 10817 MT in food grains, comprising rice, wheat and sugar, coming under the public distribution system in Kashmir valley. The situation thus calls for an extraordinary effort on the part of the state government to forestall the otherwise very real prospect of the complete loss of the agricultural land. Urgent action is needed before it is too late.