Kashmir’s vanishing farmland

Jammu and Kashmir remains dependent as ever on agriculture but has been struggling to hold on to its diminishing farmland.

From over 10 lakh hectares in 1995-96, the total agricultural land in the state has fallen progressively to under 9 lakh hectares in 2010-11, according to provisional figures for the 2010-11 agricultural census. This year, Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told the legislative council the current figure is 7.36 lakh hectares arable agricultural land.

As it is, Kashmir's hilly terrain means a very small proportion of its 2.22 lakh sq km (222 lakh hectares) is under agriculture, a feature of the plains. Yet the livelihood of 70 per cent of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture and allied sectors, according to the state economic survey report for 2012-2013.

The loss of agricultural land to urbanisation has raised alarm bells but solutions have been elusive. In 2011, the government set up a committee under the horticulture minister to review a bill that would address specifically a ban on the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, but the bill remains to be finalised.

Experts feel it is pointless to have such a specific law since existing laws already have provisions against such conversion. "There is no need to create new laws," says Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches law at Central University of Kashmir. "What is needed is strict implementation of the existing laws to curb this phenomenon." He stresses a need for updating the existing laws. "There should be an automatic mechanism through which the penalties and fines under the existing laws are increased in accordance with inflation rates."

In April 2012, the J&K High Court passed directions against the misuse of agricultural land following a public-interest litigation by a non-governmental organisation. It directed all deputy commissioners to ensure the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act are implemented to stop the conversion of agricultural land.

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