Anantnag: Since the inception of the National Saffron Mission (NSM) in 2010 there has been no further assessment of land under saffron cultivation in Kashmir valley, making the authorities rely on the decade-old data.
Insiders in the Agriculture department of Kashmir acknowledge that the government has no idea of how much land, previously under saffron cultivation, has been converted for other purposes.
“Hundreds of kanals of land have been, in the past decade, encroached upon in the sense that they were under saffron cultivation previously but are now under residential and/or commercial complexes,” a highly placed source in the Agriculture department told Kashmir Reader.
Prior to 2010, it was believed that there were a total of 5,100 hectares of land in Kashmir under cultivation of world’s costliest spice, saffron. “However, when the NSM was rolled out and a fresh assessment was carried out, only 3,715 hectares were found to be under cultivation, which means that 2,200 hectares were converted,” the sources said, adding that there were negligible efforts of retrieval or re-conversion on part of the government.
Saffron is primarily grown in Karewas of Pampore area in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Some of the land falls within the jurisdiction of Srinagar district and there is some land under saffron cultivation in Kishtwar area of Chenab valley region as well.
Within the jurisdiction of Pampore Tehsil only, the Revenue authorities say that around 548 kanals of saffron land have been encroached upon and converted into residential or commercial use.
“We have been carrying out regular interventions and have so far managed to re-convert or retrieve more than 40 kanals of saffron land. However, more than 500 kanals still remain encroached upon and need intervention,” Tehsildar Pampore, Ishtiyaq Mohiuddin, told Kashmir Reader.
Locals in Pampore told Kashmir Reader that entire residential colonies have come up on the prized saffron land.
“The authorities have continued to remain in a slumber while there has been brazen encroachment upon saffron land. If things continue to be like this, saffron might be extinct in the next decade or two,” the locals told Kashmir Reader.
Director Agriculture, Altaf Andrabi, said that his department considers that 3,715 hectares of land are under saffron cultivation, including in Kishtwar area.
“However, the actual land under cultivation is much more than that. The 3,715 hectares are proprietary land, and there is government land as well that is under cultivation, but we do not count that,” Andrabi said.
He said that any encroachment on proprietary land gets compensated through the government land that is under cultivation, implying there was no need for any further, fresh assessment of the land under saffron cultivation.