Srinagar:The Kashmir region has witnessed a steady conversion of wetland, farmland into non-agricultural use over the past three decades.
About 20% of agricultural land are said to be converted for commercial or residential purposes in last few years.
The experts believe that Agriculture and wetland in entire state is shrinking at an alarming rate, particularly in and around Srinagar, Baramullah, Sopore, Anantnag and other main towns of the region. “The state government continues to be a mere spectator to the onslaught of urbanization. Though there are a multiple reasons for this trend, the decrease is mainly attributed to diversion of cultivable land for non-agricultural purposes, including construction, industries and other development activities,” they said.
According to the government data available with KNS about 80% of people engaged in agriculture are in the rural areas of the state and their sole means of livelihood is farming. “If the trend continues for another 10 years, the state could see a major food crisis,” one of the former Horticultural officer told KNS.
The trend of losing farmland to urbanization has left farmers worried. The real estate boom around major towns will lead to a devastating food crisis in the state in coming years. If land is to be used for anything other than agriculture, government’s permission must be sought. However, most of our politicians are hand-in-glove with these builders. It’s they who determine the use of land, resulting in the mushrooming of construction on agricultural lands,” alleged the social activists.
He said that the large paddy fields separating the towns from the nearby villages are now the sites of multi-storied commercial complexes, shopping malls, schools, service centres and residential colonies. This has had a direct effect on agricultural productivity in the region.
According to Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report 2014-15, the estimated contribution of agriculture to State Gross Domestic Product (GSDP) has fallen from 28% in 2004-5 to 17%. The shortfall in food grains, which was 32% in 1950-51, is now 82 %.
The survey goes on to note that, while 70% of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture, the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture has declined from 85% in 1961, to 28% today. Farmers have not found other work in kashmir, due to the absence of a viable industrial and service sector.
Another social activist said that the lack of industry or service sector and rapid urbanization in Kashmir are linked due to the conflict of the last two and a half decades. “Due to militancy and counter-insurgency operations, the rural areas which were the most unsafe were left by the residents who fled to bigger cities, principally Srinagar, for safety. According to 2014-15 J&K economic survey, the largest urban area is in Srinagar district, where 98.6% of people live in urban areas, followed by Jammu district with 50%. In 2011. A London based-based City Mayors Foundation came out with a ranking of the fastest growing urban areas in the world, and Srinagar ranked 92 out of the top 300 such urban areas,” he maintained.
It is been seen that the residential colonies have come up in the low-lying flood plains of Kandizaal, Soitang, Padshahi Bagh, Kursoo, and further downstream on the Jhelum River in the Kashmir valley. These areas used to be the flood basin of Jhelum and their filling up contributed to unprecedented flooding in September 2014.
The observers believe that unfortunately the laws have often been violated by the government itself. Across Bemina the state government has constructed colleges, offices and even the Srinagar Development Authority on marshy land that once acted as the city’s flood basin.