With inheritance and mutations reducing the landholding, Kashmir is heading towards induced joblessness in coming days, reports Masood Hussain
Policymakers limited to the civil secretariat may wake up the day it starts telling on the streets. In a trend that could boost unemployment, encourage migrations to urban areas, add more to food deficit, impact governance and literally halt any credit off-take to agriculture, the landholdings per farming family in J&K are gradually reducing to become economically unviable.
In the last eight years, the number of marginal farming families witnessed a surge by 5.26 per cent in their number and 6.56 per cent in overall landholding. Comparatively, small, medium and large landholding categories are falling both in overall numbers of the population and share to overall agriculture land, official surveys suggest.
The 1995-96 agriculture census suggested 77.98 per cent of the 1332515 marginal farming families were in effective control of 39.86 per cent of the 1006765 hectares of operational agriculture land in J&K. The last survey carried out in 2010-11 revealed this section of the farmers owning up to one hectare of land make 83.24 per cent of the 1450000 farming families in J&K and control 46.42 per cent of the 896000 hectares of land.
The study offers an interesting comparison. Between the two surveys, J&K’s marginal farming community increased by 117485 which is 8.81 per cent jump. In the same period, the actual land resource available to them for cropping reduced by 110765 hectares making it an 11 per cent fall.
Farmers under the new classification would be marginal if they own up to one hectare (approximately 20 kanals) of land. If they own up to two hectares, they are small farmers and those having four hectares are semi-medium. Farmers owning 10 and more than 20 hectares are called medium and large farmers.
“It is a fact that as kids grow up, they inherit small patches of land which has surged the population of marginal farmers,” Dr Farooq Ahmad Lone, a former director of agriculture, who headed Islamabad and Baramulla districts before taking over Srinagar as Deputy Commissioner said. “The next generation will inherit the land that may not offer them two square meals but the government cannot prevent it.”
Dr Lone suggests diversification, “If marginal farmers opt for horticulture and other cash crops like commercial floriculture, there is the possibility of improving the lives of small farmers. Otherwise, the poverty ratio will shoot up”.
J&K, by its own estimates, has 21 per cent of its population living below the poverty line though the erstwhile Planning Commission of India had put it at 11.35 per cent only.
J&K sources almost two-thirds of its food requirements from Indian plains. The production of rice, the staple diet in Kashmir and part of the Jammu belts, is gradually reducing. Official sources suggest the rice production in J&K was 563700 tons in 2008-09 which got reduced to 501100 tons in 2010-11 and 507700 tons in 2011-12. State’s latest Economic Survey suggests even the area under rice cultivation is falling. In 2013-14, J&K produced 556700 tons from 271 thousand hectares and a year later in 2014-15, production reduced to 454800 tons from 265 thousand hectares. Even the per hectare yield is reduced by more than 300 kgs: from two-ton to only 1.7 ton in two years.
J&K has more than 600 thousand boys and girls registered as educated unemployed. With such a situation emerging on account of meagre land-holdings, tensions will grow up, this time for economic reasons. Many think, governing J&K will become increasingly difficult in coming years.
With shrinking farmlands lot many people will lose their livelihoods in the periphery and will move towards urban and semi-urban areas. “Our tragedy is that our agriculture season, unlike other places in India, starts with the labour season,” said Muneer-ul-Islam, a former revenue officer who now heads the Information Department. “Our people have no options, either they have to till their own fields or get directly into the labour market. They cannot do both as happens outside Kashmir.”
Abdul Hamid in Punzgam belongs to one of the prosperous clans in central Kashmir. “My grandfather would be the main person in the belt helping the state government purchase paddy in the harvesting season,” Hamid said. “Then the family divided and I as a third generation member is the proud owner of nearly eight kanals of land (20 kanals make a hectare of land).” Hamid does many things to keep the hearth going: working in his orchards, doing some menial business and partly into real estate. “If my family has to survive on the land inherited, we will have to compromise on our lifestyle greatly,” he said.
Muneer admits the trend: “The rice bowls in south Kashmir that will offer surplus to feed the city is now lined up outside the ration depots.” He said demand for opening more depots is the main demand that the elected leaders from all hues are facing from all the regions of the state. Dependence on government is increasing. In 1996, J&K consumed 290589 tons of rice which increased to 565913 tons in 2010-11 and to 444310 tons in 2013-14. While the number of families seeking rations has crossed a million across the state, J&K is still getting rations from FCI on the projected population of 2000. The FCI provides J&K state only 63067 tons of rice a month which means J&K is getting 756804 tons from FCI in a year. This is yet another tension to state’s food managers because they have food grains available for only 18.02 lakh families against the requirement of 22.73 lakh families. This is in addition to thousands of tons that the private sector is importing to feed the non-rationed market.
But the new trend in which the holding is shrinking has caught the banking sector at a very wrong foot. By the end of March 2015, the banks had cumulative exposure of Rs 6110.04 crore to the agriculture sector. It included Rs 5276.47crore advanced through 717576 Kissan Credit Cards. Banks have so far rejected 193610 cards for one or the other reason.
An executive of a national bank said, there are not many options to work in the sector. “We were told by J&K’s Agriculture Production Department in August 2013 that their door to door survey has revealed J&K has 1152097 farming families of whom 1170648 do not want any bank credit,” the executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. “The actual requirement of the market is 981449 cards and we have already sanctioned 841879 cards including those in operation. We are left with 139570 cards. Once we issue them what do we do?”
RBI has set a benchmark of 18 per cent of overall advances for the agriculture sector. Banks in J&K have reached the record of 16.73 per cent which makes 32 per cent of the overall priority sector. If the agriculture sector does not exhibit the appetite for credit, where will banks park the mandatory funds? And, more importantly, who will pay the costs for their failure in doing so?