Prime agricultural land and wetlands in Kashmir are vanishing fast as rapid urbanisation and faulty land use take a heavy toll of the Valleys agricultural and ecological assets.
According to an official document which outlines a new policy for land use in Jammu & Kashmir, unplanned construction like developing residential colonies, factories, brick kilns, shopping complexes and other commercial infrastructure has eaten deeply into the Valleys agricultural land resources.
In Pandach-Gandarbal, Sultan Mir and two other elderly farmers recall their boyhood days when they had greenery all around, and wonder what would become of Kashmir were the destruction of its green swathes to continue.
According to Mir and his two companions, the vast expanse of green paddy fields and wetlands around their village used to be a soothing sight.
Now, it is cement all around. Houses have come up everywhere, and most of the remaining land adjacent to these houses has been sold off for construction, Mir, 69, says.
The massive expansion of Srinagar city in all directions has been at the expense of agricultural land and wetlands.
Huge residential colonies such has Hyderpora, Rawalpora, Pirbagh, Ahmad Nagar, Pandach, Beehama, Khalmulla, Gulab Bagh, Shohama, Tulmulla have come up on agricultural land and wetlands to the south and north-west of Srinagar.
The situation is no different in major towns like Baramulla, Anantnag and Sopore.
Costly Land Conversion
In a letter to the government in March 2016, the director for agriculture had reported that due to the haphazard land conversion, agriculture land has shrunk considerably, as per door to door surveys conducted by the field workers of this [agriculture] Department.
The departments statistics about the past two decades paint a grim picture. According to the department, agricultural land has witnessed a reduction of 22,000 hectares from 1,63,000 hectares in 1996 to 1,41,000 hectares in 2012.
Going by this data, says an official at the agricultural department, Kashmir loses an average of 1,375 hectares of agricultural land every year.
The land lost in the 10 years from 2003 to 2012 was double the land lost in the previous decades put together.
In 2003, the land under paddy cultivation totaled about 1,58,000 hectares, and this had come down to 1,41,700 hectares by 2012.
Similarly, the land under maize cultivation recorded a 20 per cent decrease over the same period.
A study carried out by Humayun Rashid and Gowhar Naseem of Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (government of Jammu & Kashmir) says that more than 50 per cent of the water bodies in Srinagar and its suburbs have been lost during the past century.
The comparative change analysis of the two maps based on the years 1911 and 2000 reveals that wetlands like Batamaloo Nambal, Rakh-e-Gandakshah, and Rakhi-e-Arat and Rakh-e-Khankhan, and the streams of Doodhganga and Nala Mar, have been completely lost, while other lakes and wetlands have experienced considerable shrinkage during the past century, the study says.
The loss of water bodies of Srinagar and its suburbs, the study says, is attributed to heavy population pressures.
Besides, siltation brought about as a result of wanton deforestation in the catchments of Kashmir (rivers) has also been an important factor that enhanced the land-use/land-cover change.
According to a study carried out by researchers at the Kashmir Universitys department of Geography, the city has grown 12 times in terms of population and 23 times in terms of area between 1901 and 2011.
Another report in 2011 says that Srinagar city is one of the 100 fastest growing urban areas in the world.
Losing agricultural land on a large scale at such a rapid speed is disastrous for a mountainous region like Kashmir. According to recent economic surveys, the Net Area Sown in J&K is only seven percent of its geographical area.
Sajjad Hassan Baba, an agricultural economist at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), says that only 31 percent of the reported area of the state is Net Area Sown.
The Economic survey of 2013-14 reveals that Jammu and Kashmir is mostly dependent on the import of food grains from other states and the magnitude of dependence is increasing day by day. The importance of sustained food grain imports is essential with a view to augmenting supplies, maintaining food security and buffer stocks and ensuring price stability in the land-locked Kashmir region.
The survey reveals that the volume of import as well as off-take of food grains is constantly increasing in the state. During 2011-12, import and off-take of food grains stood at 908.22 and 856.27 thousand metric tonnes respectively, which depicts that with every passing year, (food grain) import is swelling by 15 to 20 per cent.
Loss of agricultural land is even reflected in the contribution of the states agriculture sector to its economy. As per a survey, the contribution of agriculture to the State Gross Domestic Product (SGDP) has decreased from 28 per cent in 2004-05 to 17 per cent in the current year.
There has been, the survey says, a huge decline in work force employed in agriculture as it has declined from 85 per cent in 1961 to a paltry 28 per cent currently.
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