Agrarian distress and politico-land mafia nexus in Jammu and Kashmir is leaving a ‘devastating trail’ behind as conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes continues at an alarming rate, making the state further dependent on food imports to feed its 1.25-crore population.
As per government data, about 50,585 hectares (10 lakh kanals) of fertile cultivable land was converted into residential and commercial property in the state during the past one decade alone. The trend continues, without enforcement of any laws to stop such a practice.
Commercial and residential colonies are coming up across villages and towns of J&K. The situation is more catastrophic in the two capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar, which are eating up land in their surrounding villages to meet the demands of expanding population and development needs.
Land Revenue Act and J&K Agrarian Reforms Act, Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act have been misused. The government has failed to check the blatant violation as revenue department, the nodel agency to implement the laws, district administrations and policy makers have deliberately turned a blind eye towards arresting such practices.
In 2011, The J&K Prohibition on Conversion of Agricultural Land for Non- Agricultural Purposes Act Bill was introduced by the then Agriculture Minister in Congress-NC government, Ghulam Hassan Mir, to make bureaucrats and civil servants accountable in their respective areas. The Bill was met with resistance and was not passed by the Legislature. It was referred to a select committee but got lapsed after the new PDP-BJP government took over the reins in 2015.
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“Till bureaucrats and politicians are not made accountable, conversion cannot be stopped. I don’t want to name anybody but the Bill was never taken seriously by my colleagues, MLAs and even ministers. Existing laws have a lot of loopholes”, said the former Agriculture Minister.
Senior officials in the agriculture department revealed that the conversion could be more as in a majority of cases, the land had been declared barren in revenue documents, making it easy for the land mafia to circumvent the rules.
“Shrinking farmland is contributing towards state’s dependence on imports of food grain to meet requirements. It has even affected the horticulture sector”, said Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, director of agriculture, Kashmir.
As per the assessment of the agriculture department, the state is expected to face foodgrain deficit of up to 50 per cent by 2030-31. Shrinking farmland could further worsen the situation.
“There is easy money in selling land. The young generation in rural areas does not want to indulge in farming anymore because of less returns and the failure of the government to introduce technology in production. Big builders and property dealers are taking advantage of the agrarian distress to acquire land. Developmental projects have also increased the land prices”, said Tejinder Singh, a farm activist.
Alarmed by the violation of rules, previous PDP-BJP government has ordered all deputy commissioners in J&K to strictly implement the existing rules, but it remained just rhetoric.