Land to Mafia!

We need to have stringent laws to counter any underhand, illegal deals…

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s revolutionary ‘land to tiller’ law in 1950 was a historic step in getting the poor peasants of Kashmir out from the cruel clutches of Jagirdars and Chakdars.  Big Landed Estates Abolition Act was a watershed in restoring semblance and sense of equality within the Kashmiri people. Whatever the political developments post-1953 and the fate and political turnaround of Sheikh in seventies, this act changed the whole concept of survival and dignity in the countryside.

Very often wheel of events complete its circle over the period of time, but the time frame is so undefined that most of the times the change never gets noticed. But in case of Kashmir’s retrogressive agrarian scenario and ensuing fate of farmers the wheel of events looks moving at a much faster pace and would very soon push the poor farmers back to proverbial ‘square one’. A cursory look at devastating change in land use and decreasing size of land holdings offers a pathetic situation of approaching doom. During last two decades a sizeable part of valley’s cultivable land has either changed hands and come under the control of rich and powerful or has been put to use other than the purpose of cultivation. This situation of misuse of fertile cultivable land would have shown its results much earlier but thanks to modern agriculture techniques and quality inputs the balance the crop production.  Land mafia that established its roots in early nineties in the garb of Maharaja Hari Singh’s Royal Proclamation ‘Raj Tilak Boon’ in 1924-25 is  not new to Kashmir. Permitting the landlords to annex Village Common Lands (Shamilat) with their holdings maharaja legitimized land grabbing. These so-called powerful, elite classes of land grabbers not only grabbed the community land but at occasions usurped the land of poor peasants. In present contemporary era land mafia has changed its shape and form but the attributes of power (political clout) and money are same. Earlier they would use the land for cultivation by exploiting the services of poor farmers but now they use it as a source of trading. Misuse of land for the the purpose other than cultivation is now a big industry where most of the ill-gotten black money is involved. This whole process of trading in land trough land mafia created a parallel land economy making poor farmers to sell off their holdings. The rising cost of cultivation due to ill effects of capitalist driven economy on agrarian sector has pushed the farming community of whole subcontinent to the wall of despair and Kashmir’s agriculture sector is not immune to any such devastating change.

At present many farmers in Kashmir sell their holdings either to buy a petty government job or invest in more remunerative small trades like transport and retailing. This trend and change in mindset of Kashmiri farming community, particularly the small and marginal farmers encourages the land mafia with the backing of tainted money holders to lure the farmers and grab their land. Few decades earlier this process of land grab and change in land use was gradual with very little patronage from moles within the administration, but now it is a complete industry where most of the dirty money is washed. If this scenario of land grabbing and subsequent use of land for purposes other than cultivation will continue unabated, a time will come where even our rich and mighty will possess every materialistic amenity but a morsel of bread.

Time has come, that we as a nation and our administration as our guardians should come out of slumber and act fast both on societal as well as the administrative front. Beside ongoing thrust on modernization of agricultural activities and supply of quality agriculture inputs along with latest technology to farmers, we have to make harsh land use laws. And to discourage sale of land in distress or otherwise we may have to walk an extra mile and put strong deterrents against the sale of cultivable land. As otherwise we as a nation will be back to 1947 situation where only a few powerful people will own most of our land by one way or the other and the rest will be the same exploited lot of nineteen forties. And thus instead of ‘land to tiller’ it will be a ‘land to mafia’ situation.