SAMEER SHOWKIN LONE
PULWAMA: Once popularly known as the “Rice Bowl” of Kashmir, this south Kashmir’s Pulwama district is fast losing its agricultural land; courtesy government’s blind eye towards illegal constructions. The widening and unplanned constructions of new roads and the network of “useless link roads” are also seen as a major threat to the land fertile in rice production. Over the years, there has been a massive widening and construction of new roads, more particularly the mesh of other link roads, which many say are of no use, has eaten up vast area of the agricultural land in the district. Besides this, thousands of kanals of land which used to produce rich amount of rice in areas like Pinglena, Koil, Malangpora, Achan, Nowpora and other areas has been converted into horticultural land putting the agricultural sector at the edge of destruction. “Government is least bothered about this. They even don’t do a proper survey when roads are being constructed. Even people at some places construct roads of their own and government has no check on it. This has also eaten up a vast area of land. Many link roads have been carved out through the middle of the agricultural lands that has squeezed it more,” said the locals adding the government’s failure and absence of the law to check “illegal” conversion of agricultural land has drastically affected the production of agricultural land. Locals also claim that there is some nexus between various unscrupulous elements, who get tenders to construct “useless link roads” to fetch money. Furthermore it is being alleged that influential people pay a hefty amount of money to construct business establishments on the agricultural land. Such illegal practices are going despite the High Court had directed the government on June 4 that no conversion of agricultural land was allowed for the commercial or residential purposes. With all this, JK’s overall agricultural production has reportedly come down by 20 to 30 percent in recent years. As per the Economic Survey, the land under agriculture has shrunk from 9.26 lakh hectares in 2000-01 to 9.23 lakh hectares in 2010-11. The survey has pointed out that the main reasons for decrease in agricultural land is its conversion for constructions and other purposes. Experts fear that if it continued at the same in near future J&K will have no local production of rice that will badly affect state’s GDP and economy. “The state government continues to ignore such a grave issue. There are some laws which bar use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, but all such laws remain confined to papers only,” said an official at the Kashmir University. He added that the government has so far failed to bring the bill in the legislature to put a ban on constructions over the agricultural land. Agriculture Minister, Ghulam Hassan Mir says he is powerless as he can't stop the conversion of the agriculture land. “It is under the Revenue department.” When asked being a cabinet minister, has he ever raised the issue with the Revenue department so that the Agricultural land is saved, he said there are some laws that allow two kanals of land can be used for constructions.Asked what about unabated land conversions, he admitted that it is a serious issue.