Changing the landscape

In view of the rising concern in Jammu and Kashmir, higher authorities recently brought up new land laws that are supposed to offer protection to over 90% of the land. It was claimed that the previous laws were anti-agrarian, anti-farmer and anti-people in nature. It is thought that these new land laws won’t affect agriculture land since it has been kept reserved for farmers and no outsider will encroach on those lands. These laws are beyond what is seen and observed for they are presumed not only safeguarding more than 90% of our land from being isolated to outsiders but at the same time will also develop our agriculture sector. In India during the introductory or preliminary years of plans Indian economy was caught badly under very low growth rate of 3.5% (also known as Hindu Growth Rate). It was credited to various awkward reasons such as poor land laws, inadequate holistic agricultural and economic reforms in improving agricultural yield or productivity. There is no denying the fact that despite a significant fall in the share of agriculture in Gross Domestic Product since 1950’s the importance of this sector remains intact. This is due to the fact that agriculture and its allied sectors, particularly the horticulture sector, provide ample employment opportunities to a significant proportion of the population in India. Almost 60% of the population is reliant on this sector directly or indirectly thereby providing a source of revenue too.

In Jammu and Kashmir too agriculture is the main sector offering employment to the majority of the population and horticulture sector is the main income and employment generator, because industrialization on large scale together with the development of great infrastructure are not ecologically viable. In addition, the nexus between economic welfare and infrastructure is essential not just from the point of view of economic growth, building all-inclusive global societies and novelties in vibrant parts of the economy but also for eradicating poverty, malnutrition, decreasing income inequalities and wage gaps. It also brings marvelous changes in agriculture and policies associated with it since it is the main provider of raw material for industrialization and infrastructure development. Higher authorities claim that the industrial areas that have been demarcated are going to generate dual outcome (industrialization and infrastructure development) that will be somehow sustainable. Accordingly, they will meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of the future generations.

In the very recent past the dual announcements dismantled a dozen land laws, and among them was the remarkable Big Land Estate Abolition Act, 1950, that is a path towards the development of agriculture and rural welfare in the erstwhile J&K and may put a full stop to landlordism as per experts. It put a maximum limit of 23 acres on landholdings and land that exceeded this limit was automatically transferred to the tiller who was not supposed to pay any payment to the original owner. Jammu and Kashmir Tenancy Act, 1980 that continued all records pertaining to the expulsion of tenants is yet another significant law that has been revoked. There was also revocation of Jammu and Kashmir Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1956, which controlled common land rights such as social overhead capital. It encompasses basic amenities that societies and communities needed such as streets, roads, lanes, water networks, wells, tanks, drains, etc. The Jammu and Kashmir Land Alienation Act, 1938 won’t operate anymore. It was a law concerning the transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Moreover, Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition on Land Conversion and Alienation of Orchards Act, 1975 is also now nonfunctional. Without prior government permission, it barred the land conversion into orchards and existing orchard land for other uses.  It is the revised Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act which provides a broad definition of agriculture and its allied activities including crop nurturing comprising food and non-food crops, vegetable, fruits, fodder, flowers, dairy farming, poultry farming, animal husbandry, upbringing stock, agro-processing related activities, and fishery development. It, therefore, widens the nature and scope of agriculture. Government and agriculture scientists in the first place and agriculturalists or farmers in the second place must be well versed with all constituents of agriculture and its allied areas. In addition, history of agriculture in Jammu and Kashmir in generic form and land reforms in a particular form are equally important for all stakeholders. Consequently, new land laws will be understood in a better manner and thus help in the operationalization at the same time.

According to new land laws, there will be the sale of agricultural land to people within J&K only but no transfer of agricultural land to anyone from outside J&K. The safety measures on agricultural land single-handedly are supposed to make sure that more than 90% of land in J&K remains with its people. Nevertheless, there are some exemptions which allow the transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes which will be notified extensively through a newly-formed revenue board. Moreover, if it is a matter of non-profitable charitable cause or merit goods such as health and education then the government can grant permission. It is very important that like the rest of the country, J&K too should have better industries so that it also develops and employment is generated at the same time. But it should not hamper agriculture and other important sectors rather should help in their further growth and development.

Binish Qadri is ICSSR Doctoral Fellow pursuing Ph.D. in Economics at Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir; Quarterly Franklin Member, London Journals Press