Even as food security is becoming the century’s most critical issue worldwide, Kashmir is fast losing its agricultural land, making this already import-dependent state more vulnerable.
Due to rampant and unplanned urbanization, construction of houses, shopping centers and other commercial complexes on agricultural land is a common sight in the Valley. Conversion of paddy fields into residential colonies continues apace, without any check from authorities.
J&K lost 3,57,306 kanals of agricultural land in the past two years while the government is sitting on legislation since 2010, devised to ban this abuse.
Jammu and Kashmir Prohibition on Conversion of Agricultural Land for Non-Agricultural Purposes Act 2011 had been sent to a select committee headed by cabinet minister Raman Bhalla for review a year ago but so far the committee has failed to return it with review and recommendations.
It is not the lack of law, but the lack of will from the government, that allows misuse of agricultural land. Legal experts believe that existing laws provide the state enough teeth to act and stop this practice, but the nexus with the land mafia has hamstrung the political leadership.
As the state already faces a food deficit of 50 per cent, and depends on rice and wheat imports from different northern Indian states, which also encounter a shortage in production due to droughts and other reasons, acquiring food grains may become too challenging a task for the J&K government to handle.
It is high time for the government to act swiftly and sincerely not only to bring legislation for halting agricultural land conversion but also take all measures that can enhance the state’s own food production. Farm owners and people associated with cultivation must be encouraged with benefits so that they find it financially viable and profitable to retain land for food production.
With incentive, and scientific and technological help, farming can turn into a rewarding occupation in the state as its per hectare production is still 10 to 15 times lower than agriculturally-developed regions in the world. Increased yield can not only make the state self-sufficient in food but also enhance the living standards of around 80 percent of its population whose livelihood depends on agriculture.