World Food Day | Is Kashmir heading for food scarcity?

Continuous land acquisition for highways, infra projects, is bound to spell disaster
World Food Day | Is Kashmir heading for food scarcity?
Representational Pic

World Food Day which is celebrated on October 16th has a very thoughtful theme this year. Our Actions are our future. Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and better life is this year's world food day theme. Our anti nature and anti-climate actions will indeed be visible in future when there will be no farmlands in the valley of Kashmir valley.

We won’t even be able to grow paddy, vegetables or the fruits? The policies for development adopted by the Govt is leading us towards a ​catastrophe . Because of very small land holdings, the majority of the farmers in Jammu and Kashmir are officially recognized as marginal farmers.

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 0.4​0​ 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.

In Kashmir valley, where most farmers own less than an acre of land ( around 4 kanals) 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 and population is on rise, and authorities at helm like National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) are acquiring huge chunks of fertile land in Kashmir valley, what is the future of agriculture in Jammu & Kashmir ? Aren’t we heading towards food crises in Kashmir?

The world's overall population is expected to increase by another 2 billion by 2040. Feeding such a large population will be a challenging task. Scientific studies show that earth has lost one-fourth of its arable land over the last 50 years only? India has a huge population. Urbanization and industrialization is shrinking India’s agricultural land. The situation in Kashmir valley is more alarming.

Unsustainable development ​

Greater Kashmir recently reported that Kulgam district in south Kashmir has lost its 50 % paddy land. Kulgam used to be known as the rice bowl of Kashmir more than ​​25 years back and has converted huge chunks of paddy land into apple orchards. The report said that 22,000 hectares of land in the district are presently under paddy cultivation, which yield Rs 237 crore annually. Official figures say that twenty years back around 44,000 hectares of land in Kulgam. It means the local population has converted 50 % of paddy land into apple farms ?Frisal, Yaripora, Qaimoh used to be known for the best quality rice; now there are mostly apple orchards in the area. In fact this is not a good trend to convert our vegetable and paddy land into apple orchards, but still we feel safe as growing apples is itself a farm activity. Personally I am not a hardcore supporter of non conversion of paddy land into apple farms but when I see paddy land, vegetable farms or apple orchards being bulldozed and converted into residential colonies, highways or shopping malls, it hurts me a lot. ​Govt ​need​s​ to be backed by a major increase in responsible investment and strong support to reduce negative environmental and social impacts. This is not at all taken into consideration in the environmentally fragile Kashmir valley​ especially during the land acquisition process. ​As the work on the Srinagar Ring Road project has started, Budgam karewas are again being bulldozed day in and day out. They were destroyed during construction of Qazigund Baramulla railway line, and now they will vanish completely after 4 years when the work on Srinagar Ring Road would be completed.

Forcible land acquisition

The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) in association with District Administration Budgam has begun cutting down fully grown apple trees in Budgam that are coming under the alignment of the proposed Srinagar Ring Road that passes through several areas of Budgam district. 4000 kanals of irrigated land will come under alignment of Ring Road. In addition to it huge chunk of state land kahah charai will also be acquired by Govt. The affected farmers are not even paid fair compensation. I have been highlighting this issue for last 4 years now. The assessment for fruit trees was made as per the rates applicable 26 years back when the wholesale rate of apple was mere Rs 16 per kg and plum was sold @ Rs 13 per kg. More than 300 apple trees have been axed in the last 4 days around Gudsathoo village of Budgam. In Budibagh village also ​the apple trees are being​g axed i have been told.

Heavy duty earth movers (JCBs) have been brought to take possession of the land at many places. Ironically 40 % of the affected farmers in Gudsathoo have not been given any compensation till date and their land is also being acquired by force. The locals had gone to High Court for a stay order but their petition has been clubbed with other petitions pertaining to Srinagar Ring Road and the matter is listed on Oct 21st, 2021before High Court division bench. ​The Budibagh residents have already obtained a stay order from the High Court but NHAI and District Administration isn't respecting this order. I had written a detailed piece on this last week.

A meagre compensation

In 2018 the tentative award for Gudsathoo village was prepared by the then Collector land acquisition Budgam. Rs 28.75 lakhs per kanal was the approved award for this village. 60 % payment was disbursed that time. District administration Budgam asked the remaining landowners to wait for some time as the funds were not available with the collectorate. Till date the affected villagers haven’t been paid compensation. Now the Deputy Commissioner Budgam is using force and asking the villagers to accept Rs 15 to 16 lakhs per kanal as compensation? He argues that compensation paid in 2018 was exorbitant. But when we see the market rate in Gudsathoo , the market value of the apple orchard land is approximately Rs 60- 70 lakhs per kanal , but the villagers are forced to accept Rs 16 lakhs only? The Right to Fair compensation act (central law) which is applicable in J&K from Oct 31st 2019 is also not applied by government. Under this act the villages could get 2 times more compensation than stamp rate plus 100 % solatium (Jabirana). Right now the affected people area asked to accept mere 15 % Jabirana What kind of justice is this ?

Conclusion

Kashmir valley is losing its irrigated fertile land. We are heading for a disaster as there will be acute food crises in the valley after two decades. If the outside supplies are stopped people of Kashmir would starve. During 1940s or 50s Kashmiris were poor, but we were self-sufficient in rice , vegetables, poultry and mutton production. Paddy ​(​Shali ​)​ used to be procured ​locally ​by the Govt and supplied to people through Shali Store which is now called the Food and Civil Supplies department. If the government is acquiring land for developmental purposes at least they must pay a compensation which is fair and just. Villagers of Gudsathoo or Budibagh in Budgam can’t even buy half a kanal of land in their neighbourhood from the money they are paid by Govt for 1 kanal of land? Government needs​​ to both repurpose old policies and adopt new ones that foster the sustainable production of affordable nutritious foods and promote farmer participation. ​Such ​policies ​need to be adopted that ​boost rural incomes, offer safety nets to small​ landholders ​ and build climate resilience.​ Our negative actions will be reflected in our future when Kashmir valley will be like a concrete jungle. May almighty protect us from that catastrophe.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. He is also Anant Fellow for Climate Action.

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