Kashmir`s shrinking farm lands, victim of development?

Thanks to insatiable greed for money and dipping profits in agriculture, the fields of the Kashmir Valley would soon be buried under skyscrapers, factories and automobile workshops.

Srinagar: Kashmir Valley gives a perfect image of lush, green countryside. But thanks to insatiable greed for money and dipping profits in agriculture, the fields of the valley would soon be buried under skyscrapers, factories and automobile workshops.

Acres of agricultural land are being sold by farmers across the valley every day, as per the records in the registration offices. These are being converted for non-agriculture use.

"Unfortunately, the outskirts of Srinagar and other towns in the valley, which used to present a visual feast for the eyes, are today being deprived of their historic countryside ambience," Bashir Ahmad, 59, a retired veterinarian told reporters.

"Cities and towns are fast expanding laterally, gobbling up all the agricultural lands around," Ahmad lamented.
According to him, agriculture continues to be a largely non-profit- making activity in Kashmir and that is why farmers sell their ancestral lands to buyers who come with handsome offers.

"After all, a litre of water costs more than a litre of milk here. If we calculate the exact cost and the labour that goes into agriculture it is not a lucrative vocation at all," Ahmad said.

"I should know better because I belong to a family of middle class farmers," Ahmad asserted.

Land in the countryside is shrinking as developmental activities gather pace.

Roads are being widened, railway tracks are being laid and construction of hydro-electric power projects are in full swing. New office complexes and shopping malls are coming up. More schools and colleges are on the way.

The net result is that the cost of land has increased phenomenally in the Valley.

"A kanal of land (about 505 sq. metres) would sell for around Rs.20,000 in my village a few years back. Today it is priced at Rs.8 lakh," said Abdul Majid, 59, a resident of north Kashmir`s Haripora village in Ganderbal district.

"This is quite tempting for a poor farmer who wants to sell the land and set up some business for his unemployed educated son," Majid pointed out.

Large chunks of agricultural land alongside the Srinagar-Leh national highway in Ganderbal, Haripora, Wussan, Manigam, Preng and Mamar villages have been sold to buyers from Srinagar and other places who are setting up business enterprises.

State Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla says the government has taken a serious note of the fact that agricultural lands are fast getting depleted. The conversion of agricultural land needs to be stopped, he said.

"The matter has been referred to a select committee of legislators which I am heading," Bhalla told reporters.

"Land is definitely needed for developmental purposes. However, land exclusively classified for agricultural purposes needs to be protected from being used for other purposes," he said.

Bhalla added, "We are in the process of legally banning such conversion. The government has taken it as a priority issue."
The minister also said because of the highly volatile law and order situation in the valley during the last 20 years, the government`s focus was diverted.

"We already have stringent laws to protect agricultural land and it is the topmost priority of the government to make agriculture and allied activities profitable," he said.

Unless the state government moves in quickly, the coming generations will get to see Kashmir`s lush green paddy fields, which turn into golden brown brilliance in autumn, only in photo albums.


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