With gross violation and land mafia at work, the Kashmir region is rapidly losing cultivable land to many towering malls, giant showrooms, business units and residential colonies.
“Due to rapid population growth, Kashmir's land resources have come under tremendous pressure,” said an official at Srinagar Development Authority (SDA).
“Our agricultural land, which has traditionally been demarcated and devoted to the cultivation of either paddy or horticulture products has faced immense pressure and our other natural resources including wetlands, lakes, waterways and forests are also witnessing its brunt.”
Several water bodies including Anchar, Dal Lake, and Wular lake are also witnessing massive-scale encroachments and many business and residential establishments have come up in brazen violations.
Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Athar Amir Khan, says that there are set guidelines for building permissions. He says that availing of building permission under rules has been made easy for the general public.
Regarding the water bodies and their preservation, Khan says that the improvement of Doodhganga Nala from Alochi Bagh to Chattabal has also been taken up under Srinagar Smart City.
“It’ll help in the management of stormwater considerably. The project is being executed through SMC’s Drainage wing,” he says, adding “Under Mission Athwas, all the concerned agencies are making their efforts to clean Dal Lake. Together we can restore it to its pristine glory.”
Sign of Development?
Farooq Ahmad Sheikh of central Kashmir’s district Budgam is working as a manager in one of the recently constructed malls. He has been managing the affairs of this mall by getting a huge chunk of shopkeepers to set up their business units here.
Shiekh is happily performing his duties and enjoying spending time with his clients.
“I see it as a sign of development. There should be more and more infrastructure coming up in this district,” he says. “This is something that can give a lot of job opportunities to our youth.”
He says during the current situation when there was a rise in unemployment across Jammu and Kashmir, youngsters had to adopt other means of income.
Unlike Shiekh, scores of youths in this district have launched a campaign, demanding the government not to give easy permission for the construction of mega malls and showrooms on the agricultural land. They opined that the government should go tough on such people and the laws should be strictly implemented on the ground.
“Agriculture land shouldn’t be unlocked for any amenities including motels, restaurants, malls because this side of the land becomes highly vulnerable for all the mafia,” they said.
According to Chairman Municipal Committee Budgam, Parvez Ahmad, there is a vision for carrying out any activity in the township. He said that no permission was given without checking the credentials and feasibility of the land. However; he evaded the question of the rising illegal construction in the township.
While arguing his claims, Mushtaq Ahmad, a local, said that two massive buildings came up in a residential area in Budgam and later non-local labourers were accommodated for petty reasons. He said that despite many requests, the district administration didn’t move and BMC also didn’t act.
“We have no idea how these structures are being allowed. This doesn’t happen under some carpet but in broad daylight with officers witnessing this violation,” he said.
Another local, Sanuallah Gaffar, says he has knocked on every door of the BMC and the Deputy Commissioner’s office on some building violations, however, nothing concrete was done from the administration side.
‘House Committee’s Directive’
According to a senior IAS officer, wishing to remain anonymous, there were many directives issued by the House Committee of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir assembly to seal automobile showrooms, malls and other illegally constructed buildings on the agriculture or wetland in Srinagar and other districts. However; he says that the report was shelved and later no action was taken.
"To date, nothing has been done," the officer revealed.
He said that the constriction of malls and buildings on the agricultural land at that time came under heavy criticism. However; the House Committee’s instant sword of action began hanging in the air with no action on the ground. He said that the areas like Nowgam, Lasjan, Hyderpora Bypass and Parimpora were dotted with many giant showrooms, which all came up in violation.
“There is a brazen violation of rules going on and it will continue because the government reacts very late to all such things.The government has a proper policy and rules for preserving cultivable land- where are they?” a senior official at Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), wishing anonymity says.
“Why are so many illegal colonies, malls and showrooms still coming up? Despite repeated reminders and notices from SMC, SDA, who gives them permission, shields them. The government needs to find it out?” Sanuallah says that the government must come up with a full-proof mechanism wherein all sorts of violations are reported immediately.
“Constructions which have come up illegally should be paid to the government and those illegal and in serious violation of the Master Plan of Greater Srinagar should be dealt with according to the law of the land,” he says.
Sources say that Srinagar Municipal Corporation and Srinagar Development Authority had formulated a report of "unauthorized and illegal commercial complexes" in Srinagar, particularly those which have come up on the Bypass till the year 2010. They informed that while some of these structures had come up after the owners "fraudulently" obtained the permission for construction from SMC's BOCA, others had affected massive changes in laying the buildings in violation of the permission. Several such permissions for commercial complexes have been found to have been issued in purely residential zones. A number of permissions have been issued without obtaining mandatory NOCs from different government departments. Some of the permissions have been issued for the raising of guesthouses but the owners have actually raised automobile showrooms and business centres.
Officials at Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) say that there are set guidelines for building permissions across Srinagar city. They say that the directives have been issued in the public domain and that no citizen shall build or erect any building or start the works specified in section 244 of J&K Municipal Corporation Act-2000 except with the previous sanction of the commissioner.
Pertinently, the erstwhile State Legislative Assembly in one of its sessions referred the Bill to Prohibit the Conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes to the Select Committee. It is further said that the proposed law provides a complete ban on the conversion and alienation of agricultural land except with written permission which according to the bill may be granted to the extent of twokanals for residential, commercial, industrial and public utility purposes. The officials while analysing the report say that the Select Committee will have to consider seriously that by 2025 the population of Srinagar city is expected to be 2.35 million and as per the current Master Plan outlying areas from Buchpora to the foothills on the north—Mujgund to Narbal on the West side – Soibug and Ompora on South-west, Wathora and Wagoora on the South, Galander in the East-south, and Khrew on the east side have been enveloped for purposes of lateral expansion of Srinagar Urban area.
“This strictly means that all the agricultural land in the outlying areas of Srinagar will get converted into non-agricultural purposes sooner or later,” said an official of the Industries Department.
“We don’t require any more legislation for this sort of issue in order to ensure a ban on conversion of agricultural land. We strictly require implementation of prohibitions,” the official said.
Notably, the first legislation with regard to the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act (JKLRA) came into force in 1939.
According to the official document, under this enactment, there is a complete prohibition on converting paddy or vegetable lands, floating fields etc into any other use. The report says that the second legislation viz. The Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition on Conversion of Land and Alienation of Orchards Act came into force when Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beig was the Revenue Minister.
It further says that the need for enacting the said legislation was to prevent the people from converting the paddy land into orchards as between 1970-75 majority of the paddy land owners were of the view that the paddy was a non-commercial crop which prompted them to convert the paddy land into orchards. This enactment does not permit the conversion of paddy land into orchards and the sale of orchards beyond 4-kanals without permission.