Ruthless Land Mafia Eat Up Saffron Fields

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PULWAMA: Resentment is brewing among vast majority of saffron growers given the fact that government has completely failed to curb those elements who resort to illegal soil cutting during the night hours in famed saffron fields of Pampore in Pulwama district. 

Most saffron cultivators who are mulling to take to roads against the illegal practice angrily assert that some ‘greedy’ saffron growers who are hand in glove with some government officials are hell bent to destroy the saffron industry in Kashmir for their petty gains.

“Soil cutting in saffron fields is going on in Chandhara, Galandar and especially in Putil Bagh on large scale. These saffron fields are turning into barren lands now. Scores of JCBs and tippers could be seen busy in soil cutting and ferrying it to other places without any fear in broad day light,” said the worried cultivators adding that saffron fields are under big threat as government acts as mute spectator and is reluctant to take action against the elements who have vested interests. 

They alleged that some ‘greedy’ saffron growers after looting state exchequer by getting major compensation for loss of saffron crop are now busy in minting money by providing soil to the industrialists.

“3,785 hectares of saffron growing area was covered under the National Saffron Mission (NSM) in the State. The Government of India provided compensation and relief to the saffron growers after they suffered damages due to floods. Even after getting compensation, these ‘greedy’ saffron growers involved in this illegal trade practice have been enjoying the patronage of some police and administrative officials, they allege. 

The Saffron cultivators while holding the government responsible for the mess said that in the year 2013, the soil used for land filling for mega highway project was extracted from the saffron fields illegally. “Soil cutting is not the only issue but the active land mafia is purchasing cultivable saffron land on higher rates and later turns the same land into residential colonies. State government itself converted acres of saffron land into government offices and joinery mills even before the militancy broke out,” they said adding that during militancy, the government forces converted part of fields into garrisons.

“The Government figures reveal that in last decade almost 20 per cent saffron fields of Pampore have been converted into residential plots. “Pampore is now a safe haven for land mafia. Nobody is there to stop them from turning saffron land into concrete jungle,” they said.

MLA Says, ‘I Am Helpless’

The irony is that PDP legislator from Pampore constituency Zahoor Ahmed Mir says he is helpless. “What can I tell you it is a big mafia. Police and administration is hand in glove. Even top officials take bribes from the elements who resort to illegal soil cutting,” Mir said.

Mir added that he was shocked to learn that an official after seizing some tippers ferrying saffron soil released them on spot after the drivers greased his palm. “I tried hard to save this industry but failed to persuade ‘corrupt’ officials,” he said. 

Assistant Commissioner Revenue Pulwama, Sajad Ahmed told reporters during a recent meeting that he grilled Tehsildar Pampore and directed him to take stringent action against the culprits and he informed that they have already booked a number of persons involved for this illegal practice,” he said. 

Station House Officer Pampore Raja Tasleem said that whenever they spot any illegal activity they seize the vehicle and arrest the culprit without any delay.

This development is as unfortunate as it is sad. Some unscrupulous elements amongst saffron growers in cahoots with some officials are marauding and destroying not only an industry that is indelibly associated with Kashmir and provides livelihood for many for small and petty gains. Long term interest and sustainability of an industry is sacrificed at the altar of petty interests. And paradoxically, such is the apathy that the peoples’ representative pleads helplessness. This state of affairs needs to end and it can end only with sustained and focuses against these criminal elements.

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