In the last five decades, Kashmir has lost 42,000 hectares of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes and conversion is taking place at fast due to multiple factors including “least priority” given to the agriculture sector by successive Governments of the State. The Brag and Boast around the Tourism industry has impacted the major sector of agriculture in Kashmir, Pertinently agriculture sector is the major economy producer in Kashmir and has a massive contribution to the overall GDP.
The officials of the Agricultural Department warned of “catastrophic situation” if steps are not taken to preserve agricultural land in the Valley. According to official data, Kashmir had 1, 63,000 hectare agricultural land in the year 1952 when its population was only 18 lakh. In the following years, the conversion of land began at fast speed and in 2012, the land shrunk to 141,740 hectares. Similarly, the land under maize was 1, 00,000 hectares in the year 2003 and by 2012, it shrunk to 80,014 hectares.
Kashmir is also losing its saffron land to conversions into non-agricultural purposes. The data prepared by Agricultural Department revealed that 2000 hectares of land of prized saffron have shrunk in just 16 years. The officials of the Agricultural Department listed various reasons for land conversion in Kashmir and that include disinterest shown by people and Government towards this sector.
The people in Kashmir valley over the past two decades have converted agricultural land into commercial and residential purposes. According to officials, the highest conversion has taken place in Srinagar district and the lowest in Kupwara district. They said that people have constructed residential houses, shopping complexes, farms and other establishments to earn revenue while the Governments also did not interfere to stop these conversions. Besides, said the officials, the land was also converted for horticulture purpose.
“What has happened is that the agricultural sector has not been remunerative. As a result, the people and the successive Governments showed the least interest towards it. Unlike other sectors, the Governments did not spend sufficient money on the agricultural sector which is why no one is interested in keeping this land,” said the Agriculture officials.
The officials said that nearly 80 percent people of Kashmir are directly as well as indirectly associated with agriculture. Director Agriculture, Altaf Aijaz Andrabi said the conversion of agricultural land into non-agricultural purpose will prove “catastrophic to the existence of the people of Kashmir”. “People have no idea about the outcome of the agricultural land conversion. In worst times of the 90s when everything had come to standstill, the agricultural sector saved us but we are converting same agricultural land without thinking about our future,” he said.
According to officials, the agriculture sector in Kashmir has export potential “because the Valley has seasonal advantage” over other regions of the State and country and it will decrease dependency to some extent. “We have to understand that paddy won’t fetch us revenue but potatoes, tomatoes (which scientifically falls in fruit category) and other vegetables can. So, they should be prioritized and we can export them at that period of the year when they are not available outside and it can fetch us huge revenue,” they said.
The officials suggested “huge subsidy” in agricultural sector so that people desist from converting land. “The Government should woo people towards this sector because right now we have our land and it should be preserved. Huge subsidies can discourage people from conversions and they will show interest in this sector again,” they said. As per official figures, the revenue generation of the agricultural sector in Kashmir is Rs 5000-6000 crore per annum.
“Converting agricultural land into concrete jungle won’t benefit us. Land conversion is directly proportional to dependency on others. The sense of responsibility is missing and the future would be catastrophic for the whole population. We should wake up and stop this before it is too late,” the Director Agriculture added.