Will my valley remain green? Many Kashmiris wonder
Published: 2014-06-17 22:43:47.0 BdST Updated: 2014-06-17 22:54:38.0 BdST
As the Kashmir countryside turns lush green with the advancing paddy season, one wonders whether farmers' greed for wealth would spare the fields from becoming concrete jungles in the near future.
There are laws in Jammu and Kashmir that prevent putting agricultural land to any other use, but the laws are observed only in their breach.
South Kashmir's Anantnag district is known as the Valley’s rice bowl where the grain forms the staple food of the local people.
Large agricultural land holdings were done away with through landmark land-to-tiller laws passed by the state’s first government after independence in 1947.
The laws put an end to absentee landlordism, passing on ownership rights to the tillers.
In rural Kashmir, farmer families now own paddy fields measuring less than an acre on an average.
The problem with paddy cultivation and other agricultural pursuits in Kashmir is that they merely provide for two square meals without remotely matching the prosperity agricultural land holdings mean for the farmers of neighbouring Punjab.
"The costs of agricultural land have appreciated phenomenally in the Valley. Land that used to cost a few thousand rupees a few years back is now rated around Rs 20-40 lakh ($ 33,000-66,000) per kanal (one-eighth of an acre) in the countryside, depending on their availability around highways and places of tourist attraction," said Nisar Hussain, 63.
Hussain, a retired chief engineer, lives in Srinagar but hails from a north Kashmir village, where his father once owned hundreds of kanals of agricultural land.
"This lures the younger generation to sell their ancestral lands and start businesses that are more profitable than agriculture.”
The Khyber Himalayan Ski Resort and Spa in Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: IANS
The Valley has witnessed inclement and cold weather during the spring season this year with the average temperatures dropping several notches below the average during March, April and even May.
"By God, I for one did not believe the weather would improve and we could complete our paddy transplantation," said Ghulam Muhammad Rather, a farmer in north Kashmir's Ganderbal district.
Paddy is a semi-aquatic crop that needs average day temperatures of around 30 degrees for three months to grow and bear grain.
Wet weather and low temperatures have historically played havoc with agriculture in Kashmir.
Walter Lawrence, the British settlement commissioner who served Jammu and Kashmir during the rule of the Dogra Maharaja Pratap Singh, writes in his famous book, 'The Vale of Kashmir', that while famines are brought in other parts of the sub-continent by drought, rains and wet weather have been the reason for bringing famines to the Valley.
As men and women transplant paddy in their ancestral lands in the countryside singing traditional songs, one often wonders when both sowing and growing paddy would become another lost heritage to humankind's greed for wealth and comforts of modern life in Kashmir.
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