Impact

A Highway in Kashmir Threatens to Cut Across the Fortunes of Farmers

Apple and peach farmers in the Budgam District of J&K fear losing their land as the road of development lays down concrete through their orchards.

In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)  plans to construct a 60-kilometre long semi-ring road connecting Pampore to Ganderbal via Budgam. This highway will go through about 4000 kanals (500 acres) of agricultural land in Budgam. Farmers cultivating apple and peach trees say the government is not compensating them at today’s prices, instead, it is offering them compensation at 1995’s prices, reports Community Correspondent Nadiya Shafi.

“They should give us enough money so that we can establish our fields somewhere else. The next generation would also like to work in the fields as government jobs are unavailable,” says Mohammad Shabaan.

Shabaan raises a very valid point. Agriculture provides employment to 60 percent of people in J&K. It is also the economic mainstay of the state, which records the highest unemployment rate in the country at 13.2 percent, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Yet in the past three decades or so, there has been a high conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land. Earlier this year the Jammu and Kashmir minister for Agriculture, Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura admitted to this “shrinking in the state with every passing day due to growing population, urbanisation, industrialisation, expansion of road, rail network…” In the past 10 years, J&K has lost approximately 10 lakh kanals of land to non-agricultural purposes.

Purposeful infrastructure has its own indisputable value, but problems and citizen discontent arise when the government starts building infrastructure without evaluating the collateral damage. In this particular case of farmers in Budgam losing 4000 kanals of land, they stand at the risk of losing 25 years of hard work and their source of livelihood. If they are forced out of their lands, they will have to start from square one, and it will take at least 25 years to get to their current level of output.

The ramifications of unemployment are harsh, of course on the economy, but more so on society – countless studies have proved the direct relationship between unemployment and rise in crime. Perhaps these ramifications are more threatening in the unique state of J&K– it would not be an exaggeration to say that the tremors of political turmoil are felt ever too acutely by the average Kashmiri provided that they are living in the highest militarised zone in the world. And that is why in this unique Indian state, it is even more important for the government to put its resources in the right places such as by providing diverse employment opportunities to its young population.

The government’s past records of land resettlement serve as a window to the probable future of these farmers. Farmers are demanding four times the market value of land as they say that that’s the compensation NHAI has provided in other states. Their demands are anything but unreasonable – after all isn’t the entire premise of resettlement based on the lucrative offer of a life better than the one you were forced out of?

Video by Community Correspondent Nadiya Shafi

Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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