Agri, wetlands: Rapid Urbanization

Kashmir Magazine

Kashmir is losing its prime agricultural land and wetlands to rapid urbanisation, unplanned construction and faulty land-use. Unplanned construction which includes residential colonies, factories, brick kilns, shopping complexes and other commercial infrastructure has severely damaged the agricultural and ecological resources of Kashmir.
Annually, Kashmir is losing an average 1,375 hectares of agricultural land about the size of 1,527 football fields.
Land under paddy cultivation in Kashmir region shrank from 1,63,000 hectares in 1996 to 1,41,000 hectares in 2012 — a loss of 22,000 hectares over 16 years.
In a land-locked, mountainous terrain, the loss of agricultural lands has had a significant impact on the supply of food grains and their price stability. Jammu and Kashmir is mostly dependent on the import of food grains from other states and the magnitude of dependence is increasing day by day. Srinagar has also lost 50 percent of its wetlands since 1911.The 2014 floods that led to large-scale destruction in Kashmir were due to the haphazard development of housing and infrastructure projects mostly in the floodplains of Srinagar and other cities in the south.
Dip in agriculture land holding from 0.62 hectares to 0.59 hectares per Farm Operating Family, conversion of estimated 78 thousand hectares of farm land for non-agricultural purposes in Kashmir from 2015 to 2019 should act as an eye-opener to the government and policy makers as the newly carved Union Territory with each passing day is becoming more and more dependent on outside supplies.
According to the census report by Union Agriculture Ministry average size of holding has shrunk from 0.62 hectares (ha) per Farm Operating Family to 0.59 ha, from 2011 to 2016.
The official data also points out to the fact that agriculture land in Kashmir is shrinking. According to the data, Kashmir had 4, 67,700-hectares of agricultural land in 2015 which has shrunk to 3, 89,000 hectares in 2019. Kashmir has lost 78,700 hectares of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes since 2015.
Data shows that the land under paddy cultivation in Kashmir region shrank from 1, 48,000 hectares in 2015 to 1, 40,000 in 2018. Similarly, maize cultivation shrank from 100,000 hectares to 76,000 hectares over these years.
Accordingly, cultivation of pulses has declined from 14,600 hectares to 12,767 hectares. Oilseed cultivation also plummeted from 86,000 hectares to 81,000.
Large scale conversion of agricultural land into non agricultural use shall create an imbalance in the agricultural ecosystem as the change in land pattern would be the greatest concern to our food security and economic sustainability. Change in land use pattern has arguably been the most pervasive socio economic force which has caused imbalance in the eco system. Cessation of this pattern is a critical element in achieving long term economic growth and sustainable development of the society as a whole but the land use policy has to be designed in a way that it should strike a balance between private proprietary right and public interest.
As per an official report, the arable land in J&K has shrunk from 0.14 hectare per-Farm Operating Family in 1981 to 0.08 hectare per-Farm Operating Family in 2001 and further to 0.06 hectare per-Farm Operating Family in 2012.
“Factors like small holdings create problems in farm mechanization operations and make farming non-remunerative. Apart from population growth, the urbanization process leads to shrinkage in per capita arable land,” the report says.
Experts cautioned that conversion of agricultural land was taking place in both rural and urban Kashmir, raising alarm bells.
In 2011, the Government had set up a committee under the chairmanship of then Horticulture Minister to frame a bill that would specifically address the issue of use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. But the proposed legislation wasn’t finalised allegedly owing to political pressure.
Land under Paddy, Maize cultivation shrinks:
In 2003, the area under paddy cultivation in Kashmir was 158,000 hectares and this fell to 1,41,340 hectares in 2012; the area under maize cultivation recorded a 20% decrease in the same period.
Most areas surrounding Srinagar city that were once fertile fields or wetlands are being swallowed by construction projects.
Why the Valley’s paddy fields matter:
The Department of Agriculture has at numerous occasions taken up the matter with the Government that due to the haphazard land conversion, the agriculture land has considerably shrunk (in Kashmir) as per door to door surveys conducted by the field workers of the department.
The net area sown in Jammu and Kashmir is only 7% of its geographical area, according to the 2016 economic survey and as per revenue records only 31 percent of this area is actually arable. The volume of, as well as the offtake of food grains is constantly increasing which during 2011-12, stood at 908.22 and 856.27 thousand metric tonnes, respectively with an increase in the import volume of 15-20 percent each year.
The impact of rapid urbanisation also shows up in the decline in agriculture’s contribution to the state’s gross domestic product (SGDP) that has fell from 28% in 2004-05 to 17 percent currently. There has also been a huge decline in the workforce employed in agriculture–it has declined from 85 percent in 1961 to 28% currently.
Srinagar’s rapid urbanisation damaged its ecology:
The massive urban expansion in Srinagar and other major towns of Kashmir has extracted a huge environmental cost. Srinagar and its suburbs lost more than half their water bodies during the last century.
Srinagar has been growing rapidly in recent years. The city has grown 12 times in terms of population and 23 times in terms of area between 1901 and 2011. These factors have affected the region’s lakes and wetlands as well, reducing them in size or completely killing them. Srinagar’s wetlands spread over 13,425.90 hectares in 1911. By 2004, this area had shrunk to 6,407.14 hectares. This means a loss of 7,018 hectares in 95 years.“The comparative change analysis of the two maps based on the year 1911 and 2000 reveal that wetlands like Batamaloo Nambal, Rakh-i-Gandakshah and Rakhi-i-Arat and Rakh-i-KhanKhan besides streams of Doodhganga and Nala Mar have been completely lost while other lakes and wetlands have experienced considerable shrinkage during the last century.
The loss of water bodies of Srinagar and its suburbs, said the study, is attributed to heavy population pressures: “Besides siltation brought about as a result of wanton deforestation in the catchments of Kashmir (rivers) has also been an important factor that enhanced the land-use/land-cover change.”
City and its Impact on Wetlands:
Encroachment of Srinagar’s wetlands and waterways has made the city highly susceptible to floods. “The wetlands have been fragmented and many interconnecting water channels filled up,” a Professor at Kashmir University said. The wetlands act not only as floodplains but also act as the earth’s kidneys.
“Just imagine the fate of a human being without kidneys or damaged kidneys. We saw somewhat similar happening to Srinagar during 2014 floods,” a senior academician spoke. “So, we should start taking measures for the conservation of our remaining wetlands”, he added.
Srinagar’s wetlands also host millions of birds apart from supporting the lives of those engaged in fishing, fodder and tourism.
In January this year, the J&K government’s Board of Revenue notified regulations for conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Under these regulations, powers had been delegated to the District Collector to grant permission for land up to “12 and a half standard acres against a fee of 5 per cent of the market value of the land notified under the Stamps Act”.
As per regulations the time period for grant of permission will be 30 days, subject to addressing all deficiencies in the application. The regulations were approved by the J&K Administrative Council headed by LG Manoj sinha on December last year.
“These regulations were necessitated after the legislative changes in the land revenue Act post-reorganisation of the erstwhile state,” the government had said.
In October 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs, through an order, introduced key amendments to four major laws that governed ownership, sale and purchase of land in the erstwhile state, including the J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996.
Under the J&K Agricultural Land (Conversion of Non-Agriculture Purposes) Regulations, 2022, issued in January this year, the Board of Revenue provides rules for conversion of land use in the Union Territory. Therefore, either with permission from a District Collector or through payment of conversion fee, agricultural land can be re-purposed for non-agricultural use.
Under the J&K Land Revenue Act, 1996, “no land used for agriculture purposes shall be used for any non-agricultural purposes except with the permission of the District Collector”. However, sub-section 2 of Section 113-A of the Land Revenue Act said that an owner or occupant who wished to put his agricultural land to non-agricultural uses as provided in the regional plan, development plan or master plan as the case may be, “shall do so it after payment of conversion charges as prescribed by the Board from time to time”.
The regulation states that an application for change of land use can be filed with the District Collector, along with revenue extracts, copy of sale deeds, key location plan, letter of intent from concerned agency and an approval from concerned authority that would regulate the “activity for which the change of land use has been sought”.
The application would then be forwarded to the Revenue field agencies for verification of records and shall also include a copy of application to other departments of government.
“After this, the application would go to the District Level Committee comprising the District Collector, Assistant Commissioner (Revenue) and members from eight government departments, including public works, power development, agriculture and industries, for approval”, the regulations had mentioned.
As per the notified regulations, the Assistant Commissioner (Revenue), Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Tehsildar concerned will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of these regulations within their respective areas of jurisdiction.
However the unabated conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural purposes has become a great concern among people. The sensitive elements of society and civil society members believe if the future is not taken care of the day is not far when there will be grave disorder in the environment. They hope the present dispensation will come forward with concrete measures and will put an end to the mafia which led to the devastation of the environment.
When contacted, Director Agriculture Mohammad Iqbal Choudhary he said the efforts are on to save the agricultural land from the mafia. He said the matter has been taken up with government repeatedly to ensure the safety of environment.
“We are trying our best to save whatever we have as of now. We have taken up the matter with government and are hopeful the rest of the agricultural land will be safeguarded for coming generations”, Choudhary said.
“Besides the role of government, the general public should also realise their responsibilities and play their role in curbing this mafia. Once they will observe any conversion in their area, they should play their role and inform us so that we will rein these practices in future”, Choudhary added.