Illegal constructions ravage saffron land, authorities unmoved

Construction in saffron land continues in South Kashmir’s Pampore town. —Excelsior/Younis Khaliq
Construction in saffron land continues in South Kashmir’s Pampore town. —Excelsior/Younis Khaliq

Suhail Bhat
Srinagar, Dec 5: The authorities are acting mute spectators to the vandalisation of the saffron fields in South Kashmir’s Pampore area as the Valley has lost over 2200 hectares of land due to the establishment of residential and commercial establishments during last two decades.
Despite the laws like Saffron Act 2007, the land grabbers and mafias have raised illegal constructions on the unique land. The saffron growers, however, blamed the Government for failing to stop the conversion of saffron land. “For last two decades people were given free hand to construct houses and other commercial structure. Land mafias have constructed colonies on the land. The worst part is that authorities let it happen”, Tasaduq Rashid, a local from Frestabal area of Pampore said, adding “if construction continued with the same pace for next two-three years, no land would be left for cultivation”.
Prior to 2007, when Government was yet to introduce its ambitious Saffron Mission, 5100 hectares of land was under Saffron cultivation which has now reduced to 3715 hectares.
Abdul Rashid, 40, another grower said once known for its vast saffron field the land at Yaechnabal and Frestabal area has been completely eaten up by the residential houses.
“Ironically, the place has been named as Saffron colony. The construction never stops here and has doubled after the 2014 floods. After the floods, the people from different areas are buying priced uplands of Pampore for the construction of residential colonies,” he said, adding the land mafias in connivance with the authorities are converting the land into residential and commercial establishments.
Echoing him, Abdul Majid, president of Saffron Association said tainted officials who are close to the land mafia are destroying the fields. “The officials receive hefty amounts for permissions,” he said, adding everyone takes his share.
Officials at the Agriculture Department claimed that the land mutations have happened prior to the 2010 and the land cover has not declined. “In 2010 the land under saffron cultivation was 3715 hectares and there have not been any changes in the status so far,” he said. However, as per insiders in the department, neither the agriculture nor any other department has done any assessment which can prove the claim. “No new assessment has happened. None one knows the exact land under saffron cultivation today. Unless the Government takes a call which will discourage all the land mafia the unabated conversion of land will not stop”, he said.
As the land cover decreased, the Saffron production showed a drastic decline and this year, as per growers, there was a 99 per cent drop in production. Experts explained that the unplanned and unregulated construction is ruining the crop and if Government fails to put a check to the vandalisation of fields, no land would be left for the cultivation of Crop. “You would not find this crop elsewhere in India It grows at selected places, as it requires specific climatic conditions. It is not only land but also the micro-environmental conditions, which makes Pampore special and helps it grow here. It’s a special crop and needs special policies,” an Agricultural Officer, said.
Locals asked how the Government can stop the constructions when they themselves were constructing buildings on the Saffron land. “The newly allotted Degree College, spice park and some others buildings had been constructed on the Saffron land,” they said.
Deputy Commissioner Pulwama, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, blamed residents for the diminishing of land cover as they were building houses on their own land at some places. “At some places people are building houses on their own land and that has been happening for many years owing to the increase in population”, he said, adding that many locals were involved in the vandalisation of the fields and that was creating problems.
Asked about the construction of commercial establishments and construction of residents houses by the outsiders, he said: “I will look into it and if people were found violating the act somewhere action will be taken”, he said.