Though land mafia is a reality across India, their impact in Kashmir which is already short of the irrigated agriculture land has been disastrous. According to a survey carried out by Agriculture Production Department in 2016, around 10,000 hectares of the “net cultivated area” of 3.5 lakh hectares has been converted to non-agriculture use, most of it lost to the illegal and unplanned construction, in which land mafia has had a significant role to play.
In Srinagar, the wetlands near Sanatnagar, Hyderpora and Batamaloo are being filled up and turned into residential colonies. The rates go up to more than Rs 1 to 2 crore a kanal. The city is also witnessing a frenetic construction activity across Pantha Chowk, Lasjan, Bagh-e-Mehtab, Wanbal, Parimpora etc. All paddies including also the horticulture land is being taken over in flagrant violation of the Srinagar’s Master Plan which strictly forbids construction on agriculture land.
Ganderbal, according to an estimate, has witnessed the drastic reduction in the paddy land from 9091 hectares in 2012 to around 8400 hectares, a loss of 691 hectares in a little over two years.
As it is, the government has hardly acted against the land mafia and tried to regulate the construction in the union territory. Or at least step in to ensure that they do not arbitrarily build new colonies which violate the city’s master plan. In fact, there is a whole food chain of the builders, property dealers and foot soldiers who pounce on any free space and soon turn it into a concrete jungle. Land, most of it in the flood prone areas, was sold at astronomical sums and the rates almost doubled every year. The real estate edifice has also been sustained by the administrative and political corruption. Politicians and bureaucrats have also got on to the gravy train. Real estate became the predominant business activity of Valley and over the course of decade turned Srinagar into a monster city, choking every open space with concrete, every hill, every orchard leaving the city gasping for breath. In fact, new Srinagar has been planned by the land mafia than the government. Most of the residential colonies that have come up in the past two decades have choked Srinagar.
People also blame a close nexus among land brokers and revenue and flood control department officials for the grim state of affairs. While the land sharks have built colonies on agriculture land, the government has provided roads, electricity and the other civic amenities. But while we devote enormous amounts of time to non-issues, the blatant encroachment and disfiguring of our landscape by the rampant land mafia has gone unnoticed. Not only do they plan our colonies, they also make the housing a distant dream for the poor sections of the population. It is therefore incumbent on the government to act before it is too late.