“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Conversion of Agricultural Land Into Commercial Goes Unabated

FAHEEM ASLAM

Srinagar, Dec 25: The conversion of fertile agricultural land into residential and commercial is going unabated in the Valley, posing a serious threat to food security, experts have warned.

The conversion is going at “large scale” in Pulwama, Anantnag, Varmul, Kupwara and Budgam districts. As per available records, residential colonies, brick-kilns and shopping malls have been constructed on hundreds of acres of agricultural land. The trend amounts to violation of the Revenue Act that bars conversion of any land under the cultivation of paddy, maize, vegetable or saffron.

Some officials in the Agriculture Department have been objecting the trend for the past many years, given its serious implications on the food security of people and fodder for animals.

Some top officials of the Agriculture Department have written letters to Tehsildars and Deputy commissioners of these districts, asking them to check the conversion of agriculture land into commercial and residential.

One of the letters mentions that a residential colony is being constructed in paddy fields near Narbal crossing in city outskirts, posing a serious threat to food security.

“A private construction agency is busy in expansion of the colony by way of earth filling of the submerged area in the interior of paddy fields at Narbal crossing. You are requested to look into how the colony has come up in the area,” reads the letter from Joint Director, Agriculture (Extension) to DC Budgam.

The letter, written in 2006, has evoked little response. The land, according to the Narbal residents, is a submerged water body that serves as drainage of excess water in paddy fields and is also a source of irrigation water for many areas. “The present activity undertaken in the said area is also threat to eco-system as the area was a sanctuary for fish and many other birds,” the letter reads.

Another letter to DC Pulwama mentions the large scale removal and excavation of soil from a saffron rich area at Pampore. “The excavation is about 50-60 feet deep, endangering a large area of about 500-600 kanals of most fertile saffron growing area,” the letter reads. “The matter may be treated as most important as any activity, be it the construction of house, business establishments or excavation of earth is highly prohibited on the area under saffron cultivation.”

Sources in the Agriculture Department said that hundreds of kanals of agriculture land have been used for residential and commercial purposes at Chackla and Chanand areas in north Kashmir’s Varmul district.

Another two-page letter to tehsildars of Budgam, Chadoora, Beerwa, Khansahib and Charar-i-Sharief mentions many places in these areas where the land conversion is taking place. In Chadoora, the letter reads, the situation is “dangerous as the most fertile lands under paddy and vegetable crops, with perennial source of irrigation, are being converted.” “All land is being converted at the face of the government departments responsible to implement the Revenue Act in letter and spirit,” the letter reads.

But the letter hasn’t evoked any response, even though is states that if the trend is not stopped forthwith, the governments efforts aimed at boosting of production of food and other crops to achieve self-sufficiency shall prove futile. Many brick-kilns, residential colonies and shopping malls have come up on pure agriculture land along the Khanabal-Pahalgam road in south Kashmir’s Islamabad district.

In Srinagar, many houses have come up on agriculture land at Hyderpora and Parimpora.

Documents available with Greater Kashmir reveal that some 4200 kanals of paddy land have been transferred to the Srinagar Development Authority for development of some housing colonies at Rakhi Gundakshah, an area which houses thousands of migratory birds every year.

About 235 kanals of land have been transferred to the Railway Department for construction of a Railway station in Awanitpora. Nearly 8000 kanals of paddy land have been transferred to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority. According to experts, the usage of agriculture land for purposes other than agriculture has brought the Valley on the brink of food disaster. As per the available information, there is a growing deficit in food drain production in relation to population growth in Kashmir.

In 1980-81, Kashmir had a food deficit of only 23 percent for a total population of 3.3 million. In 2005-2006, the food deficit has risen to 40 percent for a population of six million.

“Right now, the valley has 44 percent deficit in food production, 33 in vegetable production and 69 in oilised production,” sources said, adding that the 44 percent food deficit is likely to touch over 60 percent in the next 10 years.

Experts say that such a situation could lead to serious food insecurity in Kashmir, given its topography and closure of its link with rest of the world. Many officials in the Agriculture Department, who spoke to Greater Kashmir, said the land conversion trend needs to be stopped immediately, given its hazardous fallouts.

“There is no well-defined policy with the government that could monitor the food security mechanism. The government should immediately come up with a policy that calls for end to conversion of agriculture land into any other form. Otherwise, a food disaster is certainly in the offing,” the officials said. “The trend to encourage constructions on agriculture land is being pioneered by the government. This is highly detrimental and encourages the land brokers to utilize agriculture land for construction purposes,” they said. The government, they added, should immediately ban the purchase and selling of agriculture land so that the food-grain deficit is controlled and production elevated.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 Copyright © 1998-2007- GreaterKashmir.com