After losing at least 3.5 lakh hectares of agriculture land to rampant commercialisation, the government has finally woken up to the challenge by coming up with the first-ever vertical conclave offering 600 flats in Srinagar.
"The move would go a long way in promoting the concept of flat accommodation in Srinagar, where the demand for urban housing is mounting day by day," said minister for urban development and local bodies Nawang Rigzin Jora, while laying the foundation of Gulposh Apartments at Srinagar's Bemina area on Monday.
Around three apartment blocks comprising 60 flats will be constructed in the first phase by the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA). It will be followed by 550 more flats.
Vertical housing colonies in Srinagar city are part of the government plan to prevent the misuse of agriculture land.
Traditionally, people in Kashmir had enough landholdings to construct houses. The idea to live in flats is new in Kashmir. Many efforts by the private companies failed to attract prospective buyers in the past.
As the prices of land and construction go through the roof, people have started thinking in terms of living in vertical buildings.
"It is impossible for a middle-class family to buy land and construct a house. It is beyond reach to do the both. However, the flat system will bring down the cost for a middle-class person, who is eager to own a decent accommodation in Srinagar," said Basharat Ahmad, a resident of Sopore, who works in Srinagar.
Srinagar is witnessing an uncontrolled growth of colonies and commercial complexes, mainly on agriculture land.
Ironically, even forest and mountain areas of Harwan, Khrew, Nishat, Shalimar, Hari Parbhat and Alasteing on peripheries of Srinagar city are under pressure. Most areas have fallen prey to the land mafia.
The government seems eager now to bring an end to fast land conversion. "All support will be extended to the SDA for starting innovative projects in both the housing and commercial sectors in Srinagar to ensure planned development on one hand and decongestion of the city's core on the other," said Jora.
SDA vice-chairman Mohammad Shafi Rather said the authority would work on institutionalising the concept of flat accommodation.
"This is to prevent the wanton misuse of agriculture land, which is squeezing fast day by day in and around Srinagar," admitted Rather.
"The SDA is also planning to go for acquisition of around 4,500 kanals at Rakh-e-Gund Akshah for development of an integrated satellite township," said Rather.
The fresh move has come in the backdrop of the state government drawing flak from the high court over rampant land conversion in Kashmir.
In April, a division bench comprising justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and justice Ali Muhammad Magray directed all deputy commissioners to ensure that provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Revenue Act were implemented in letter and spirit to stop the 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.
1) The estimated percentage contribution of agriculture and allied sector was 19.4% in 2010-11 against the corresponding share of 28.96% registered in 2004-05, says the economic survey of the state government
2) 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% and saffron from .025% to .013%
3) 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
4) Kashmir has a total requirement of foodgrain at 11.57 lakh tones, but the local production is only 6.97 lakh tonnes. The deficit stands at 40%