Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kashmir's Shrinking Farm Lands

When Corruption, greed and opportunism intersect, the fall-out is mostly expreessed in terms of real-estate transfers

Kashmir's Shrinking Farm Lands, Victim of Development?

Srinagar: Kashmir Valley gives a perfect image of lush, green countryside. But thanks to insatiable greed for money and dipping profits in agriculture, the fields of the valley would soon be buried under skyscrapers, factories and automobile workshops.

Acres of agricultural land are being sold by farmers across the valley every day, as per the records in the registration offices. These are being converted for non-agriculture use.

"Unfortunately, the outskirts of Srinagar and other towns in the valley, which used to present a visual feast for the eyes, are today being deprived of their historic countryside ambience," Bashir Ahmad, 59, a retired veterinarian told IANS.

"Cities and towns are fast expanding laterally, gobbling up all the agricultural lands around," Ahmad lamented.

According to him, agriculture continues to be a largely non-profit- making activity in Kashmir and that is why farmers sell their ancestral lands to buyers who come with handsome offers.

"After all, a litre of water costs more than a litre of milk here. If we calculate the exact cost and the labour that goes into agriculture it is not a lucrative vocation at all," Ahmad said.

"I should know better because I belong to a family of middle class farmers," Ahmad asserted.

Land in the countryside is shrinking as developmental activities gather pace.

Roads are being widened, railway tracks are being laid and construction of hydro-electric power projects are in full swing. New office complexes and shopping malls are coming up. More schools and colleges are on the way.

The net result is that the cost of land has increased phenomenally in the Valley.

"A kanal of land (about 505 sq. metres) would sell for around Rs.20,000 in my village a few years back. Today it is priced at Rs.8 lakh," said Abdul Majid, 59, a resident of north Kashmir's Haripora village in Ganderbal district.

"This is quite tempting for a poor farmer who wants to sell the land and set up some business for his unemployed educated son," Majid pointed out.

Large chunks of agricultural land alongside the Srinagar-Leh national highway in Ganderbal, Haripora, Wussan, Manigam, Preng and Mamar villages have been sold to buyers from Srinagar and other places who are setting up business enterprises.

State Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla says the government has taken a serious note of the fact that agricultural lands are fast getting depleted. The conversion of agricultural land needs to be stopped, he said.

"The matter has been referred to a select committee of legislators which I am heading," Bhalla told IANS.

"Land is definitely needed for developmental purposes. However, land exclusively classified for agricultural purposes needs to be protected from being used for other purposes," he said.

Bhalla added: "We are in the process of legally banning such conversion. The government has taken it as a priority issue."

The minister also said because of the highly volatile law and order situation in the valley during the last 20 years, the government's focus was diverted.

"We already have stringent laws to protect agricultural land and it is the topmost priority of the government to make agriculture and allied activities profitable," he said.

Unless the state government moves in quickly, the coming generations will get to see Kashmir's lush green paddy fields, which turn into golden brown brilliance in autumn, only in photo albums.

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