Govt Shouldn't Transfer Agricultural Land for Non-Farm Activities

THE Union Minister of State for Home affairs, Nityanand Rai, recently said that as per the adapted land laws of Jammu and Kashmir the Government can allow transfer of agricultural land for public purposes such as education, healthcare or charitable work.

While responding to a question by Congress MP Akhilesh Prasad Singh in Rajya Sabha, the Minister said that the Government altered the land laws of Jammu and Kashmir wherein no domicile or permanent resident certificate is required to purchase non-agricultural land in the J&K.

In a written reply the Minister of State for Home affairs said:

After 5th August, 2019, all provisions of the Constitution of India have been made applicable to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir which necessitated changes in existing laws in Jammu and Kashmir by Adaptation Orders so as to conform with the provisions of the Constitution of India,”

Majority of the farmers are officially recognized as marginal farmers as there is very little agricultural land holding in Jammu & Kashmir. The size of small agricultural landholdings in J&K was estimated at 0.55 hectares during the agriculture census 2015-16, but unofficial sources say that land holding is much smaller (around 0.45 hectares ). In Kashmir Valley, the size is even smaller. During the 2010-2011 agriculture census, the average size of operational land holdings in India was 1.15 hectares. This figure was  lower, at 0.62 hectares  in Jammu and Kashmir. Districts in Kashmir valley had even lower landholding sizes than the state as a whole. Kulgam 0.39 hectares, Anantnag 0.39 , Shopian 0.56, Pulwama 0.48, Srinagar 0.31, Budgam 0.43, Baramulla 0.51, Ganderbal 0.37, Kupwara 0.51, Bandipora 0.48. This figure again came down during the 2015-16 census as discussed above. In Kashmir valley, where most farmers own less than an acre of land, any Government policy related to land acquisition, especially for “development projects”, needs to take into account the fragile mountainous environment and climatic conditions as well.

At a time when the agricultural land is shrinking day by day and population is on the rise, the Government of India is planning to allow the use of agricultural land in J&K for non-farm activities such as transferring land for setting up educational institutions , hospitals or charitable institutions. In this schema,what is the future of agriculture in Jammu & Kashmir?

Amendment in J&K Land Laws 

On October 26th 2020 in exercise of the powers conferred by section 96 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019  the Central Government issued an order called the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Third Order, 2020.Through this order, several land laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir were repealed or amended. Some of these amended or repealed laws include J&K Land Revenue Act,Tenancy Act,Agrarian Reforms Act, Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Common Lands Act, Consolidation of holdings Act, Flood plain zones Act and Land grants Act.

J&K Land Revenue Act 1996 and J&K Development Act 1970 were amended in such a way that certain provisions were incorporated in these laws and some other laws as well to pave the way for non J&K residents to buy land and property in Jammu & Kashmir which is already a land deficit place.

Additionally, farmers of J&K come under the category of marginal farmers. The national average land holding is 1.25 hectares ( 25 kanals or more). In a place where there is already scarcity of land, how can the Government allow outsiders to buy land in Jammu & Kashmir? By allowing conversion of farm land for non-farm activities, Jammu & Kashmir will turn into a concrete jungle.

Our paddy lands and apple orchards will perish after a few decades and that will prove to be disastrous. In the future, we will have scarcity of food grains. Infact, even now J&K imports a large percentage of food grains. If the Government allows more and more buildings to come up on our agricultural land, J&K will be inhabitable and completely dependent after a few years.

The Directorate of Economics and Statistics in its several reports has shown constant decline of production of food grains in J&K. These arbitrary decisions not only violate many laws of the land but it also goes completely against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) set up by the United Nations in 2015 are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. According to the national review report on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in India, the opening statement of which begins with  Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, a Sanskrit phrase whose literal meaning is “the world is one family”.  PM Modi in his statement at UN during SDG summit in 2015 said :

“ The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are thus part and parcel of the country’s longstanding tradition and heritage. Indeed, the goals substantially reflect the development agenda of India. Much of India’s development agenda is mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals. Our national plans are ambitious and purposeful; Sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.”

However, the policy adopted by the Government for the so-called development of J&K is completely un-sustainable and not environment friendly at all.

Violation of Land Use Policy 

Transferring 24000 kanals of land for “industrial growth” not only violates SDGs but also the National Land Use policy.

The decisions taken by the Government by amending or repealing Jammu & Kashmir’s land laws violates the National Land Use Policy 2013. The preamble of the national land utilization policy makes it clear that land is the most important component of the life support system. The operative part of the preamble under sub heading use of land must be judicious reads as :

“There is a need for optimal utilization of land resources. The country can no longer afford to neglect land, the most important natural resource, so as to ensure sustainability and avoid adverse land use conflicts. There is a need to cater land for industrialization and for development of essential infrastructure facilities and for urbanization. While at the same time, there is a need to ensure high quality delivery of services of ecosystems that come from natural resource base and to cater to the needs of the farmers that enable food security, both of which are of vital significance for the whole nation” 

The Government is planning to transfer the same amount of forest land for industrial growth which is totally against all environmental laws. J&K which imports rice and pulses from Punjab and other states will be made further dependent on them which will have a direct impact on our economy.

Jammu & Kashmir, in fact, needs green development. We need to set up research institutions for Ayush,Ayurveda and Unani medicine. I remember when PM Modi came to Jammu for campaign during 2014 elections , he spoke highly about Jammu & Kashmir' s mountains and the herbal wealth inside our forests . He said there is huge potential to produce herbal medicines and allied aromatic plants, but till date very little has been done in this regard. Now the government is planning to use agricultural land for non-farm activities. This is unacceptable. Why can't industries be set up to explore herbal wealth in Pirpanjaal mountains or creating agriculture based industries in J&K ?

Prime Minister Modi during his Independence Day speech a few days back spoke in detail about shrinking agricultural land. He said that the Government needs to give maximum benefits to farmers who have small landholdings. But the Government is planning something else in Jammu & Kashmir.

If the Government is really sincere and wants development in J&K, it needs to focus mostly on agriculture based activities from Lakhanpur to Kupwara. Authorities at helm need to ensure mass production of Rajma in Poonch,Ramban,Kishtwar and Bhaderwah areas or enhancing Basmati production in Jammu’s RS Pura or developing Mushk Badji rice in Kashmir valley’s selected areas or creating new nurseries of ultra high density apples and other fruits.

The Government instead is planning to construct hospitals, schools, colleges on agricultural land. This is a callous, irresponsible and unwise decision.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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