As per census the population of J&K rose from 1,01,43,700 in 2001 to 1,25,48,926 in 2011 showing a decadal growth rate of 23.71 per cent. Based on this percentage , J&K ranking 6th in the category of area with an area of 2,22,236 kilometres is sure to cross 1.55 crore population by the year 2021 making an increase of 29,75,350 souls. Expansion of basic human needs will follow as a natural corollary. This will demand pieces/patches of land to live be it a cart driver, sole trader, street vendor, bureaucrat or a corporate body. The imminent fallout of this will be need for increased number of dwelling units and the decrease in the production of food grains. This situation will be further aggravated by the mode of nuclear family system adopted here since recent past as the concept of vertical housing has hardly taken up and living in exclusive houses remained a norm. In yore generations would live together sharing one kitchen /roof peacefully, proudly and joyfully. Now is the U-turn every one wanting to have least interventions separating and secluding even parents.
This has goaded people to resort to either conversion of agricultural land or encroachments of state lands for raising residential structures irrespective of rural-urban divide lessening the number of operational land holders/ area of land holdings contributing to decreased production of food grains necessitating huge yearly imports. This is borne out by the revelations of the J & K Economic Survey 2016 narrating that State has lost through conversion 53,000 hectares of land within a period of 10 years between 2005-06 with 8.47 lakh hectares to 7.94 Lakh hectares in 2015-16 forcing Government to import food grains of 756.80 thousand metric tonnes compared to 50,000 metric tonnes in 2005-06.
If 25 percent of increased population of 29,75,350 as mentioned above adjusts by raising super structures on the existing ones the remaining 75 percent of 22,31,512 people assuming four member family size consuming plots at a uniform rate of 5 marlas will need 6973 hectares of land. Moreover, if out of 75 percent population of 22,31,512 only 25 percent start trade & business outlets this will require 512 hectares of land for the shop size of 10'× 10¬¬' leading to conversion /occupation of at least 7485 hectares of land.
Whereas every Government makes public believe its concern over the conversion of agricultural land for commercial & non-agricultural purposes and retrieval of state lands lost under encroachments, the element of human need turning into a problem and the pivot of proper & efficient planning should not miss the attention. Till vast space above the earth is surmounted, people have to live either in houses or houseboats afloat waters as inescapable alternatives. I was shocked to see a case of residential construction work stopped at plinth level by one revenue official on the plea of it being constructed on agricultural land by a person who interestingly had no other suitable piece of land. While the revenue official was correct in its observance and duty bound to carry out the orders of his higher authorities and threatening to invoke the penal provisions of J & K Agrarian Act and the J & K Land Reforms Act , the violator builder being in dire need to have a shelter of his own for his own family too was not unjustified in activity. One was trying to protect obedience to law, other trying to protect life which has precedence over latter when put to touchstone of raison-d'être. One was worried about breach of law, other pained about breach of security of life & dignity. If laws are such, existence & importance of life asks for a debate and decision expeditiously as to which one weighs more to have preference in this law-life clash.
Framing policies and making laws on any subject even though a prerogative of government, safeguarding its side effects is equally needed to make it a fruitful success. Any policy howsoever beautifully canvassed but devoid of public concern is destined to fail in practice. If Government disallows through enactment of Acts, Advisories & Warnings the conversion of agricultural land for commercial and non-agricultural purposes by its rightful owners, there must be an appropriate housing policy in place to face the inevitable and increasing need for residential dwellings. Certainly Governance has to be meaningful. Intents of Government and contents of policy it contemplates should prove to be heelers and not bleeders. Embracing public applause and acceptance of any policy depends upon the quantum of dividends it pays than those in its absence. In absence of such pegs to plug ,Government runs deep short of moral and true legal strength & justification in the act of debarring the proprietary land holders to utilise their land holdings for commercial and non-agricultural uses. A comprehensive land use/management & housing policy is needed rather than mere specific land acquisitions which is no more than swapping weights on the two sides of a balance.
People too have to cooperate in this endeavour and change their mind set of living in separate houses with shift to living in multi-storied seismic-resistant eco-friendly residential apartments/quarters/flats appropriate to the soil strength as living in separate/big houses locks up capital more than necessary and necessity. This will reduce wastage of land, maintenance charges, security concerns, sewerage & drainage problems, pollution, bio-degradable & non-biodegradable waste issues etc, and simultaneously facilitate other positives added with better community & social intermix of relations. This approach/action will bushwhack in at least mitigating, if not eradicating the problem which grows in geometrical progression in relation to unique characteristics of staticity of land. Unless the Government, in consultation with technical and non-technical experts on housing /master plans/smart city/town planning strives for evolving a harmonious solution, present modus-operandi shall continue to be laced with the risk of increasing chances for both corruption and harassment coupled with ever squeezing arable land available for raising food grains vital for over all development.
Else willy-nilly conversion of land for purposes other than agricultural production will have a irrefutable rationale for its de-facto continuance as a past-present practice with agenda for future. Government has to come up with succour and not the scourge.
[The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer working as Consultant in the A.G's Office Srinagar.]