Uptown Srinagar's Pirbagh locality, which houses who's who of Kashmir's bureaucracy and business houses, was a large swathe of paddy fields just 15 years ago. Now, one of the most plush colonies exposes the government's poor planning and is a living example of rampant land conversion in the fast-growing and unplanned city of Srinagar.
The Srinagar Master Plan, being implemented in 90s, had predicted a ribbon-shaped growth of Srinagar city. To the astonishment of the city planners, concrete structures and housing colonies cropped up in the most unplanned manner with downtown city acting as a nucleus and the city extending in all directions.
Mass construction is eating into water basins near Pantha Chowk and Lasjan, horticulture land at Bagh-e-Mehtab to Wanabal, paddy fields in the Budgam area, horticulture land in Gulabagh and paddy fields in Parimpora up to Wannabal. Similarly, forest area at foothills in Harwan and Khrew are fast turning into colonies and ironically state's roads and buildings connecting all illegal colonies to the city.
Hearing a petition filed by an NGO on the misuse of land in Kashmir, the high court on Saturday directed the state government to come up with a detailed report within one week on the steps taken by it for stopping conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes.
Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Ali Muhammad Magray in have directed all the deputy commissioners to ensure provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Revenue Act were implemented in letter and spirit to stop conversion of agricultural land.
According to official figures, two lakh kanals of agriculture land of the net sown or cultivated area of 3.5 lakh hectares has been converted for commercial and other purposes.
"The officials shall explore the possibility of bringing out some plans in the adjoining area of the city of Srinagar to accommodate the increasing demand for residential place," observed the division bench.
From a stable agrarian economy in 1940s to a stumbling service-based society, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is undergoing a tectonic shift fraught with dangers. The downward trend in the agriculture sector, which continues unabated according to the latest economic survey, will lay a foundation for a state unable to produce its staple food: rice, meat and vegetables.
The estimated percentage contribution of agriculture and allied sector is likely to be 19.4% in 2010-11 against the corresponding share of 28.96% registered in 2004-05, says the economic survey of the state government.
The worrying factor is that the crop sector is mainly on a decline. "The growth rate of crop sub-sector is pegged at 10.87% as per the estimates of 2009-10 against growth rate of 13.31 registered in 2004-05," suggests the survey.
The paddy contribution to the state gross domestic product has come down from 1.59% in 2004-05 to 1.14% in 2009-10, similarly wheat contribution is down from .96 to .49, maize from .93 to .75, cereals from 3.52 to 2.41, saffron from .025 to .013.
The area under rice crop cultivation has come down in Kashmir from 122 hectares in 2010-11 to 112 hectares, while in Jammu it is down from 160 hectares to 158 hectares.
Agriculture minister Ghulam Hassan Mir passed the buck on dangerously decreasing agriculture land. "It is not our jurisdiction to prevent conversion of land use. The revenue department is supposed to take care of it. We are only taking care of production. But yes there has been decrease in agriculture land. But we cannot rule out genuine conversion of land to horticulture for better profits. Development and residential purposes are also eating into land," said Mir.
Contrary to minister's complacency, the land conversion is obvious from production declines, particularly paddy. Kashmir has a total requirement of food grains at 11.57 lakh tonnes but the local production is only 6.97 lakh tones. The deficit stands at 40%.
Land laws and Kashmir
The first legislation to the Land Revenue Act, drafted to save agriculture land, came into force in 1939. The Act suggested a complete prohibition on conversion of paddy or vegetable lands, floating fields, etc., into any other use.
Second legislation 'Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act' came into force in 1970 to prevent people from converting paddy land into orchards. The Act does not permit conversion of paddy land into orchards and sale of orchards beyond four kanals without permission.
The Agrarian Reforms Act, imposed in early 70s restricted utilisation of orchards for any other purpose. According to the Act, those orchards that may have ceased to be fit for such use cannot be put to alternative use by the owner without a prior permission by the government
Areas facing threat
Mass construction eating into water basins near Pantha Chowk and Lasjan
Horticulture land at Bagh-e-Mehtab to Wanabal and in Gulabagh
Paddy fields in Parimpora up to Wannabal
Forest area at foothills in Harwan and Khrew