The Administrative Council (AC) headed by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha recently approved the change of land use from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes in Jammu and Kashmir. The AC approved the regulations framed by the board of revenue for conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. These regulations were necessitated after the legislative changes in the JK Land Revenue Act post abrogation of Article 370.
Govt claims that new guidelines have been issued to regulate the uncontrolled conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes on the one hand and to keep the developmental aspirations of the Union Territory and the people on the other hand.
Under the new regulations, the District Collector (Deputy Commissioner) has been empowered to grant permission to the change in land use from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes in accordance with the procedure as to be notified by the board of revenue. The powers have been delegated to the District Collector /Deputy Commissioner to grant permission for land up to 12 standard acres against a fee of 5 % of the market value of the land notified under the stamps act.
However, the regulations provide an exemption from seeking permission in cases of conversion of land for construction of residential houses or farm-related buildings and storages with a ceiling of 400 square metres. The Govt statement on this issue says that decision is aimed at ensuring production of sufficient quantity of food grains, besides promoting orderly growth of industrial and services sector in the Union territory and creation of more employment.
During the monsoon session of parliament this year the Union Minister of State for Home affairs Nityanand Rai had hinted about transfer of agricultural land for public purposes.
While responding to a question by Congress MP, Akhilesh Prasad Singh in Rajya Sabha the Minister said that the Government altered the land laws of Jammu & Kashmir wherein no domicile or permanent resident certificate is required to purchase non-agricultural land in the J&K. In a written reply the Minister of State for Home affairs said :
“After 5th August, 2019, all provisions of the Constitution of India have been made applicable to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir which necessitated changes in existing laws in Jammu and Kashmir by Adaptation Orders so as to conform with the provisions of the Constitution of India,”
Majority of the farmers in J&K are officially recognized as marginal farmers as there is very little agricultural land holding in Jammu & Kashmir. I have been highlighting this issue for the last many years through my columns. The size of small agricultural landholdings in J&K was estimated at 0.55 hectares during the agriculture census 2015-16, but unofficial sources say that land holding is much smaller (around 0.45 hectares ). In Kashmir Valley, the size is even smaller. During the 2010-2011 agriculture census, the average size of operational land holdings in India was 1.15 hectares. This figure was lower, at 0.62 hectares in Jammu and Kashmir. Districts in Kashmir valley had even lower landholding sizes than the state as a whole. Kulgam 0.39 hectares, Anantnag 0.39 , Shopian 0.56, Pulwama 0.48, Srinagar 0.31, Budgam 0.43, Baramulla 0.51, Ganderbal 0.37, Kupwara 0.51, Bandipora 0.48. This figure again came down during the 2015-16 census as discussed above. In Kashmir valley, where most farmers own less than an acre of land, any Government policy related to land acquisition, especially for “development projects”, needs to take into account the fragile mountainous environment and climatic conditions as well.
At a time when the agricultural land is shrinking day by day, population is on rise, Govt’s plan to allow using the agricultural land in J&K for non farm activities such as transferring agricultural land up to 12 acres for setting up educational institutions, hospitals, factories, industries etc., is completely unrealistic. In such a situation what is the future of agriculture in Jammu & Kashmir which includes horticulture as well ?
Amendment in JK land laws
On October 26th 2020 in exercise of the powers conferred by section 96 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the Central Government issued an order called the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020. Through this order several land laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir were repealed or amended. Some of the amended or repealed laws include J&K Land Revenue Act, Tenancy Act, Agrarian Reforms Act, Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Common Lands Act, Consolidation of holdings Act, Flood Plain Zones Act, Land Grants Act.
J&K Land Revenue Act 1996 and J&K Development Act 1970 were amended in such a way that certain provisions were incorporated in these laws and some other laws as well to pave the way for non J&K residents to buy land and property in Jammu & Kashmir which is already a land deficit place.
As on ground the land holding per family is not more than 3 kanals in J&K and this is shown at higher side in 2015-16 agriculture census, 0.55 hectares, which is not at all true. Farmers of J&K come under the category of marginal farmers. The national average land holding is 1.25 hectares ( 25 kanals or more). In a place where there is already scarcity of land, how can the Govt allow outsiders to buy land in Jammu & Kashmir ? By allowing conversion of farm land for non farm activities , Jammu & Kashmir will turn into a concrete jungle. Our paddy land , apple orchards will perish after a few decades and that will be disastrous and our future generations will curse us.
In future we will have scarcity of food grains, even now J&K imports 50 to 60 % of food grains, if Govt allows more and more buildings to come up on our agricultural land, J&K will be the worst place to live in after 20 to 30 years? The Directorate of Economics and Statistics in its several reports has shown constant decline of production of food grains in J&K. These arbitrary decisions not only violate many laws of the land but this goes completely against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The policy adopted by the Govt on so-called development of J&K is completely un-sustainable and not at all environment friendly as this violates UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as well.
Violation of land use policy
The decisions taken by the Government by amending or repealing Jammu & Kashmir’s land laws violates the National Land Use Policy 2013. The preamble of the national land utilization policy makes it clear that land is the most important component of the life support system. The operative part of the preamble under sub heading use of land must be judicious reads as:
“There is a need for optimal utilization of land resources. The country can no longer afford to neglect land, the most important natural resource, so as to ensure sustainability and avoid adverse land use conflicts. There is a need to cater land for industrialization and for development of essential infrastructure facilities and for urbanization. While at the same time, there is a need to ensure high quality delivery of services of ecosystems that come from natural resource base and to cater to the needs of the farmers that enable food security, both of which are of vital significance for the whole nation”
If the Govt is really sincere, and wants development in Jammu & Kashmir, it needs to fully focus on agri based activities across UT, i.e., from Lakhanpur to Kupwara. Authorities at the helm need to focus on ensuring mass production of Rajma in Lohran, Mandi of Poonch, Ramban, Kishtwar or Bhaderwah areas or enhancing Basmati production in Jammu’s RS Pura or developing Mushk Badji rice in Kashmir valley’s selected areas or creating new nurseries of ultra high density apples and other fruits? The Government instead is planning to construct hospitals, schools, colleges on agricultural land or setting up factories and pollution causing industries. This is not at all a wise decision. We have already lost a huge chunk of agricultural land during the last 20 to 30 years. We have set up residential colonies and office complexes on agricultural land. We destroyed Karewas for railways and highways. We have destroyed our forests, lakes and wetlands for so called development. Let us stop it now and ensure inclusive green growth which is the pathway to sustainable development.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen fellow.
He is Chairman of J&K RTI Movement and Anant fellow for Climate Action…
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.