Over one lakh fruit & non-fruit bearing trees have been axed for the Srinagar Ring Road. Construction work going on but the aggrieved have not even been paid paltry compensation
AROUND 80% of the apples produced in India are grown in Kashmir. The apple industry is the backbone of Kashmir’s rural economy. The commercial apple farming in Kashmir and cultivation of cherries , plums, pears and the likes, generates an estimated revenue of around Rs 10,000 crores annually.
As per the Government estimates, around 10 to 11 Metric Ton (MT) of apple is produced per hectare in Kashmir, while this is 40 MT per hectare in European countries, like France and Italy. The per hectare yield of apples is 50 MTs in Chile, South America. To enhance the apple yield in Kashmir, the Horticulture Department says that they need more apple plantations. More and more farmers are shifting towards apple farming and converting their paddy farms and other types of fields in hills and Karewas into apple orchards but due to a scarcity of land, we haven’t been able to create more farms.
Infact, as agricultural land is now being converted into highways and other commercial hubs, it seems that the apple production in Kashmir will likely come down in the next decade only. Additionally, as agricultural land holding is also decreasing drastically, production is set to drop further. This is very dangerous for our economy as well as our environment.
1 lakh plus trees axed
Recently, the Project Director of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Srinagar project revealed in a written response sought under Right to Information Act (RTI) that one lakh ten thousand forty three (1,10,043) private trees were axed for the Srinagar Ring Road project. The RTI reply further said that 1200 trees will further be cut down. One lakh plus trees that were axed included fruit bearing trees like apple , walnut, pear, plum, apricot, almond etc. In addition, non-fruit bearing trees like chinar, walnut, mulberry trees which are classified as specific trees were also cut down along with willow, kikar, popular and other trees. The NHAI reply says that all the trees valued around Rs 13.76 crore for which compensation has been disbursed to affected people.
When we calculate the compensation paid per tree this comes to around Rs 1250 approximately (Twelve Hundred Fifty Rupees). This is a disappointingly meagre compensation.
Additionally, the Jammu based noted RTI activist Raman Sharma who sought this information from NHAI was informed that 50,616 plants alongside avenue and 25,308 timber alongside median are to be planted as a contract settlement with the road construction company. This too is very little.
Even under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAF) the funds paid by user agency during deforestation is used for the treatment of catchment areas, assisted natural generation, forest management, wildlife protection and management, relocation of villages from protected areas, managing human-wildlife conflicts, training and awareness generation but this isn’t being done in the execution of the Srinagar Ring Road project.
Compensation estimated as per year 1995 rates
About 90 percent of farmers in Jammu and Kashmir are officially marginal. According to Agriculture Census 2015-16, the size of small agricultural landholdings in J&K was estimated at 0.55 hectares. Yet, unofficially it seems to be only about ½ acre. The 2010-2011 Agriculture Census had declared the average size of operational land holdings in India as 1.15 hectares. This figure was also lower, at 0.62 hectares, for Jammu & Kashmir. Ten districts in Kashmir Valley had even lower landholding sizes than the UT as a whole: Anantnag 0.39 hectares, Kulgam 0.39, Shopian 0.56, Pulwama 0.48, Srinagar 0.31, Budgam 0.43, Baramulla 0.51, Ganderbal 0.37, Bandipora 0.48, and Kupwara 0.51. This figure plummeted further in the 2015-16 Agriculture Census. In the 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.
The government has acquired more than 600 acres of land for the Srinagar Ring Semi Road project. Several villages in Pulwama, Budgam, and Srinagar have been affected by the land acquisition process & axing of fruit trees (apple trees especially).
The Srinagar Ring Road project was inaugurated by PM Modi on 19 May 2018 at Srinagar. This 62-km alternate highway around Srinagar connecting Pampore with Ganderbal via Budgam is being constructed on highly fertile land. Budgam alone is losing 500 acres of agriculture land for which compensation is being paid as per repealed J&K Land Acquisition Act 1934 (samvat 1990). The Right to Fair Compensation Act 2013 (RFCTLARR Act 2013) was not applied in spite of the fact that declaration made under J&K’s repealed act lapsed in 2019 August due to efflux of time. Even the District Collector Budgam mentioned this in his written communication to the Government but nobody was bothered to abide by his suggestion.
The Government prepared the awards after a gap of 3 years and more. This is abysmal as it deprived farmers of fair compensation. The Government compensated the farmers only a few years back. However, the estimates were made as per the rates in the year 1995. Since 28 years, these rates haven’t been revised.
The final compensation for fruit trees was fixed at Rs. 16 per kilo for apple trees, Rs. 13 per kilo for plum trees, and Rs. 14 per kilo for pear trees. This is unacceptable to the affected farmers, who want the valuation to be done according to the market rates available in 2018 when these estimates were made.
The market rate of apples is Rs 70 to 80 per kg these days and this was Rs 60 to 70 / kg in 2018 and farmers were forced to accept Rs 16 / Kg . The rate of plum is also the same. This is plain injustice. The farming community hasn’t got the benefits of the central land acquisition law, the application of which was touted as a panacea post abrogation of Article 370.
Several writ petitions have been filed by farmers in the High Court of J&K from 2018 onwards. The court asked the Government in several interim directions to maintain status quo. But in March this year, the division bench of Justice A M Magrey and Justice Mohan Lal of High Court of J&K asked the Government to carry on with the construction on Ring Road. This was to be done in those areas where farmers or land owners had been compensated. The order read:
“The respondents (government) shall proceed in the construction of the ring road by utilizing the land, which will be subject to the decision rendered by this Court”.
The District Administration Budgam where most of the land has to be acquired misinterpreted this order. Instead of going ahead with road construction in areas where the farmers had been compensated for land, the administration destroyed standing crops of mustard around mid-March this year and axed apple trees as well. The land was acquired by force and farmers were not even given an option to transplant their trees which is scientifically proven and several state Govt’s have already adopted tree transplantation policies. Infact, many farmers who were ready to take compensation haven’t been paid the same as the district treasury is dry.
In addition to payment of meagre compensation for fruit and non-fruit bearing trees, there are dozens of families in Budgam district, especially those who haven’t been paid any compensation by the Government (not even the meagre compensation that is due to them under repealed land acquisition act of J&K). Ironically, their lands have already been acquired by NHAI and work on the project is being taken up by the construction company M/S NKC Projects Pvt Ltd. As many affected farmers in Budgam didn’t accept the compensation estimated under erstwhile J&K land acquisition law, the Collector Land Acquisition Budgam deposited more than Rs 46 crores in District Court Budgam under the official communication No: DCB/LAS/2022/800-04 Dated: 04.06.2022.
This award money pertains to village Wathoora alone in Budgam but even after a lapse of 3 months the affected landowners are yet to get even this paltry compensation.
- 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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