Columnists

Agriculture versus infrastructure

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat 


Kashmir valley has an area of 15,948 square kilometers. Less than 50 % of this total area is cultivable and agri based activities take place only in plains between Qazigund and Kupwara plus some surrounding hilly areas. Rest of the area is covered with thick forests, huge mountains and glaciers. 


The population of Kashmir valley is settled between the plains of Kamraz (North Kashmir), Yamraz (Central Kashmir) and Maraz (South Kashmir) . 


The agricultural land is shrinking day by day as all the so called developmental activities are taking place in the three zones of Kashmir mentioned above. 


There are highways, railways, bridges, flyovers, airports, military establishments, business establishments, schools, colleges, universities, cement plants, brick kilns, industrial estates, government offices and much more infrastructure available within the three zones of Kashmir. All the constructions have come up on the agricultural land and on daily basis Government and private players are acquiring land for setting up more and more industrial units, shopping malls, housing colonies, hotels, business units and highways etc. 


When the work on Qazigund –Srinagar- Baramulla rail link began in the mid 1990’s, everyone welcomed it. Around 10 years later when the work was completed, people noticed how much destruction this railway line caused to our agriculture land. Our Karewas (wodders) became the first victims of development. 


Karewas which are the plateau-like sedimented terraces can be found in all the three zones of Kashmir (Kamraz, Yamraz and Maraz). 


The Karewas are lacustrine in nature (associated with lakes) and found mostly in Pulwama and Budgam districts . There area almond, apple and pear orchards found in Karewas. Saffron is also grown on the karewa land. During construction of Qazigund –Baramulla rail-line, the Karewas were bulldozed as soil excavation was undertaken up from these elevated terraces. The railway engineers could have explored construction of pillars for the said rail project on the pattern of Delhi Metro, but they chose to create an elevated highway like space on which railway tracks were set up. During the construction of rail line lot of earth filling was required and the same was obtained from the Karewas of Pulwama, Chadoora Budgam, Beerwah, Pattan and other surrounding areas. 


Hundreds of hectares of almond , plum , apple and pear orchards were destroyed during this process. 



It is estimated that 15 to 20 % of the Karewas have been consumed during construction of rail line and other construction projects from 1995 till date. 


The destruction is still on as extracted soil is used for various civil works , creating residential colonies by landfilling of water bodies in low-lying areas. Instead of protecting and enforcing complete ban on mega infrastructural projects to safeguard our limited Agricultural land , Government of India by taking J&K Government into confidence is continuously acquiring our fertile land for its own benefits.  



National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) which is an organization controlled by Union Ministry of Highways is constructing an alternate highway in Kashmir valley called Semi Ring Road. 


This highway is coming up in the next few years connecting outer Pampore highway with Ganderbal via Wathoora Chadoora –Budgam and Narbal. The proposed Semi Ring road project is around 62 Kms long which is basically meant to facilitate army movement from Ladakh and border areas of North Kashmir. Once again hundreds of hectares of agricultural land will be acquired in Pulwama , Budgam , Baramulla, Bandipora and Ganderbal districts. In the 1st phase, Gallandar to Narbal project will be taken up. During phase 2  Narbal Manigam Ganderbal road link will be executed . Most of the affected district is central Kashmir’s Budgam as around 4000 kanals of fertile agricultural land will be acquired very soon. In Ganderbal 2341 Kanals of land will be acquired. Can we afford to have so many highways and road links in an environmentally fragile valley of Kashmi?


 Irony is that land owners and farmers are forced to give their land on very low rates against their will. In addition of losing our fertile land , the construction companies will once again target Karewas of Pulwama , Chadoora , Budgam and Pattan areas. If Kareawas are again vandalized by the construction companies , 50 % of Karewas will vanish in the next 5 years. It is the duty of Government not to allow this unholy practice. 



The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) pays adequate compensation to the farmers / affected people whose land and property is acquired for construction of similar highways in other states of India. As per the provisions of Right to Fair compensation for Land Acquisition Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act (RFCLARR) enacted by Congress lead UPA Government in 2013, land and property owners get 4 times more compensation than the market value of land/ property in rural areas and 2 times in urban areas, plus jobs, rehabilitation and resettlement. As the said law is not applicable to J&K state, affected people are deprived of even fair compensation in our state. Same is the case with Semi Ring Road affected people. I have been writing on this issue from last 5 years and even took up this matter with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in January 2017. Semi Ring Road land owners have also formed a Committee who are impressing upon Government to do justice with them. A delegation of these land owners met CM in Ganderbal recently. They held several protests to press their demands, but it seems Government is adamant and wants to go ahead with this project by not at all listening to the major stake holders (farmers). 



Kashmir valley has lost its limited agriculture land. I am sure within 15 to 20 years 80 % of the villagers in Kashmir will be landless and on the other hand State Government is doing sheer injustice with its people by paying them peanuts during land acquisition process. During construction of highways fruit trees and orchards are axed. The compensation paid to apple , pear and plum growers is very meager. The formula adopted by Horticulture Department is Rs 13 to 16 / Kg of fruit and then an estimate is made accordingly. Vague estimates are made without taking growers into confidence, this is all loot and plunder. If a fruit tree gives 50 kgs of fruit , Govt officials have estimated mere 10 to 15 kgs and I have witnessed this personally being a fruit grower myself. The rates have been fixed way back in 1995 with 2 % increase after every 2 years. Right now even a B class apple per kg fetches Rs 50 to 60 / Kg in market , but the farmers are paid compensation @ Rs 16 / kg during land acquisition . The matter has been brought into the notice of Minister for Horticulture Syed Basharat Bukhari , Secretary Horticulture and Director Horticulture Kashmir who all have given assurance to revise the rates. 



Tailpiece: 

Why do we compete with states like Haryana, Maharashtra, UP or Punjab vis-a-vis development and infrastructure? Kashmir valley can’t afford to have huge highways, railways, cement factories, shopping malls, Industrial Estates in view of our less land availability and unique geography. We live in a small valley whose environment is under threat. Government of India has its own concerns as it wants to build up military concentration against China and Pakistan and we Kashmiris are made the scape goats. Our Government must focus on creating more agri based jobs which is the lifeline of our economy. Our future generations will curse us if we do not stop this unholy practice, loot and plunder.  


Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder of J&K RTI Movement 


Feedback:  muzaffar.rti@gmail.com 

Agricultural economy: Time for drastic reforms

Ejaz Ayoub


Agriculture, which supports over 60% of J&K’s population, was among the prime areas of focus in present dispensation’s first budget, when farmers’ income output was mapped with respective land holdings. “Ek kanal ka Ek Lakh” was a very objective driven slogan raised in the FY 2015-16 budget speech, setting a quantitative goal for income of farmers. 


Notwithstanding the rhetoric, the miserly financial allocations and poor policy decisions done in last three years have only cleared the doubts. Ironically last budget witnessed a reduction in the CAPEX towards agriculture from almost 6% in FY 2016-17 to only 5% in FY 2017-18. Examples in the recent past like the failure of much publicized National Saffron mission, drastic reduction in walnut income and the ever increasing pressure of food import are some of the worrying indicators of our ailing agrarian sector.


Agricultural budgets presented by the state for last 10-15 years have been pretty predictable. Our typical agri budget comprises of plain vanilla tactics like a tax holiday here and there, complimented with subsidy on fertilizers, farm equipments and agricultural loans. With surface scratching measures like these one cannot expect a turn-around, which is needed, in the agrarian economy. Even if the status quo, of continuing with cosmetic measures of tax waivers and subsidies, is maintained, the agrarian sector shall continue to slip from the hands of the mainstream economy.


In order to accelerate the growth of agricultural sector for times to come, there is a need to adopt a long term (5 year plans) holistic approach instead of few myopic annual budgetary allocations. Our policy makers must explore the concept of introducing “CONTRACT FARMING”, which shall be very effective in containing the unique challenge that our state faces in term of very small land holdings. Contract farming is a time tested market oriented agricultural production enhancement mechanism put in place in many countries. It not only makes a serious business case, but importantly can be used as an effective tool for improving the entire agriculture value chain. 

Creating and nurturing institutions that facilitate reforms like contract farming needs long term planning and substantial outlay of funds. 


Besides the state budget, it is expected that the union budget for 2018-19 shall be a populist budget, specifically directed at rural economies and agricultural sector. The premise is based on the fact that 2019 being the election year, the ruling government at center will try hard to please the huge farming class in India for potential electoral gains. Moreover, the slogan to double farmers’ income by 2022, raised by PM Modi, is also driving the calculations on policy reforms and fund allocations in union finance ministry. Unfortunately, J&K’s farmers have been one of the least benefited beneficiaries of the many centrally sponsored agrarian incentives. J&K’s budget therefore should also focus on aligning its outlays in a way that will amplify the use of centrally sponsored scheme in a synergistic manner. 


This will not only reduce the state’s expenditure burden but importantly help in penetrating the many benefits of the centrally sponsored schemes to the lower strata of the agricultural sector in J&K.


 

(Author is a columnist and works as an Investment & Foreign Exchange professional based in Mumbai. Email: 

ejaz.ayoub@gmail.com)

What Budget 2018-19 could aim for

Naqash Sarwar

I am summarising few suggestions for the upcoming budget 2018-19 as below. We should ideally:


Stop distribution of imported fruit plants of apple to the growers without observing the standard Quarantine procedures in terms of which imported fruit plants of any kind/variety should be kept under quarantine observations for at least 2-3 years under isolated conditions failing which our existing fruit plantation will be at the risk of exposure to the diseases, viruses and insects not known as yet in Kashmir, like Fire Blight of Apple, Codling Moth, Fruit fly etc.


Strategy should be planned to propagate the modern and new market acceptable sweet varieties of apple which is our main fruit supporting our rural economy right in few designated nurseries of Horticulture Department under intensive operations so the dependence of import of fruit plants and rootstocks end somewhere. 


Create irrigation infrastructure for already existing orchards by way of augmenting lift irrigation pumping stations, khuls and nallahs where ever possible. This general but simple step of providing irrigation to apple and other fruit trees in rainfed areas will double the fruit production and improve the fruit quality. Funds need to be earmarked for the purpose.


Rejuvenation of old and senile orchards should be taken on extensive scale under expert guidance.


Nutrient Management of orchards is very much unscientific and lacking in the state. Sufficient training and awareness has to be created for the said purpose. 


Poor nutrient management leads to production of poor quality fruit with lower yields.


Much has been said about ORGANIC FARMING but on ground level there is not any appreciable support of the government to encourage organic farming. This will help in improving our orchard soil condition as well as will ensure production of health fruits for our health.


Pest management is again a matter of concern.


Mechanization of orchards has to take place on a very large scale due to paucity of labour and saving input costs to make orcharding more cost effective and beneficial.


Post-harvest management is an area of very big concern. Grading and storing of fruits has emerged as a key factor in containing glut of apple in the market. Though a few CA stores have come up but their fruit holding capacity is almost negligible as against 18-20 Lakh MT of apple production. Hence it is a big challenge to be tackled.Earmarking of funds for establishment of more CA stores under PP mode 


Fruit Auction Mandies although have provided a big relief to the fruit traders of the state but several basic amenities and facilities are lacking in these mandies.Funds should be earmarked for upgrading them.


Under VAT regime, Agricultural/Horticultural machinery, tools and equipments, fertilizers, pesticides, green house infrastructure, UV film, Drip/Sprinkler system of irrigation infrastructure, apple packing boxes were exempted from VAT and farmers had got a big relief. But unfortunately under GST Regime all these items have been brought under 12% as well as 18% slabs. Taxation of these essential inputs has broken the hope of the orchardists to improve their economy.As such classifying these inputs under zero slab has to be considered if we are serious about development of fruit economy.


(The author is Former Director Horticulture/Dir. Floriculture/Consultant State Level Nodal Agency for IWMP J&K Govt.)

my expectations from the budget

Khalid ul Rehman Hakeem (Associate Professor, King Abdul Aziz University, Saudi Arabia)

The state of J&K is currently facing  serious concerns in various areas of its agricultural economy. Two main issues which require great attention in the current 2018-19 budget are: 


1. Environmental well being and 


2. Enhancing the agricultural productivity 


The upcoming budget should have budgetary provisions for the conservation of our wetlands, pristine environmental locations including forests and newly developed tourist sites. 


More funds need to be allocated for sustainable ecotourism. A special task force meant to monitor the timely and judicious use of funds on such environment related projects is the need of an hour. 


The government can also introduce a Payment to Ecosystem Services (PES) tax to the visitors of these places for the conservation of the state's environmentally-sensitive locations.


My expectation with the current budget is also to kick-start projects like efficient waste disposal system in at least around the municipal limits, introduction and promotion of alternative sources of energies and development of eco-friendly transportation, particularly around  pristine environmentally sensitive areas. 


My expectations with the budget 2018-19 would also be to promote the small scale agricultural initiatives, to provide them the subsides in taxes and to encourage them to bring their product in the international market. 


Currently, due to technological advancements and WTO, there is a great competition among the agriculturally rich countries to sell their products in the international market. Our agricultural products viz., saffron, walnut, apple, silk, pashmina shawls etc, despite having great quality, are lagging behind due to the non-availability of good technology and market promotion in the international market. 


I expect the current budget to fill these gaps and start R&D units in J&K with the collaboration of research institutes within and outside the state and provide the farmers subsidies to procure and adopt good technology and market support.