Wasting precious land

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The J&K High Court has made it clear on several occasions that it will not tolerate violation of its orders vis-à-vis constructions in arable agrarian land. The court had also said that Divisional Commissioner Kashmir would be held personally responsible for any violations in this regard. But not withstanding these directions, conversion of agricultural land into concrete jungles (commercial and residential complexes) is going on unabated and that the Revenue and Civic authorities are only being silent spectators to all this.

It may not sound very pleasant but fact of the matter is that carrying out constructions on the agricultural lands would simply not be possible without active complicity and tacit support of the concerned agencies including even the police. Indeed Kashmir Valley which is already dependant on other states for the supply of food wouldn’t have lost as much of land to non-farming ventures if the concerned authorities would have followed law and ensured its implementation on the ground. But it didn’t happen. Though turbulent political situation was also a factor as enforcing the rule of law was a tricky business for over a decade or so, but it is also a reality that the damage that has been done didn’t happen during the turbulent nineties alone. It started before that and is continuing even today.

Indeed Kashmir has the unique distinction of being a place where government itself initiated this trend of land conversion when it established housing colonies in arable agrarian lands and natural wetlands and flood basins. The disastrous repercussions of that foolish policy showed itself in worst form during the floods of September 2014 when the colonies that have come up in these flood-basins remained dangerously inundated for weeks. So when government itself is culpable of subverting laws and norms, for the ordinary people it is a virtual go-head to do everything and anything that pleases them, laws, rules and norms notwithstanding. Now add to it the unfortunate reality of widespread and highly institutionalized corruption here, it then becomes common sense that laws and rules remain exclusively for those ‘fools’ who either want to obey them of their own sweet choice and will, or who do not know how to buy detours by paying bribes!

Now coming to the constructions, and the way they are being carried out here, one could say with absolute surety that Valley must be looking like the bottom of an ocean – where everything is just lying around in absolute madness and without any order whatsoever. And it is on this chaotic bottom of this man made ocean that now commercial complexes and shopping malls are spreading like small-pox. Some people may pat themselves for having built sophisticated and modern shopping centres and other related infrastructure, and some others for having struck the proverbial goldmine through such ventures, but is this general a trend? Are all such shopping complexes and malls doing good? Certainly not! At a place where government-built and owned premier mall – Sangarmal – built right in the heart of the city at most ideal and central location with all necessary facilities, is a failed venture, it should not be difficult to guess what might be the commercial viability of other such commercial complexes that have come up, and are still being constructed throughout the Valley. In case of Sangarmal besides the government’s (SDA to be precise) mismanagement and bad planning, it is a bunch a private business-people who have dealt a death blow to it procuring commercial spaces in bulk only to keep them locked up!

Taking the court directions as a wake-up call, it is high time for the government to ensure that no more agricultural land is wasted to non-farming uses. A careful look at the land use by the government itself also testifies that besides the agricultural land, the forest land is also being compromised and thrown away big time. Here again it is the government which is encouraging the trend by giving away forest lands for non-forestry uses – again creating a template for the people to follow – who then train their axe and sickle on forest lands for its subsequent use for farming or constructions.

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