J&K: A case of botched up Agrarian Reforms

Col Satish Singh Lalotra
‘Those too lazy to plough in the right season will have no food at the harvest”…Proverbs 20:4 The Holy Bible.
The quote by the Holy Bible in proverb20:4 as stated above encapsulates a world within itself . In fact nothing can be nearer to the truth as farming was and still is the only subsisting factor for the humans on this planet for eons. Though India started in the right earnest immediately after independence the agrarian reforms to benefit its majority of population, the erstwhile state of J&K was the standard bearer for the rest of the country to follow its lead in so far as agrarian reforms were concerned in the country. Land reforms in J&K constituted a major portion of reforms including health, education and agrarian rethinking introduced by the erstwhile National Conference State Government between 1948 and 1976. Before I dwell upon the systematic erosion of agrarian reforms in the erstwhile state of J&K ,it is pertinent to throw some light upon the why and where of these reforms, the intention of ushering in these reforms by the powers that be and how over a period of time these reforms have lost their efficacy in the labyrinthine of official apathy cast over them. I was prompted to write this article as a consequence to the recent utterances by the so called Gupkar alliance in Jammu in November this year that these reforms were the most progressive ,pro people and pro farmer ever to be undertaken . In fact nothing can be farther from truth.
One of the reasons attributed to the poor agriculture situation obtaining in post independent India was its unequal land relationship. The Congress party opted for land reforms as that would transform India into a progressive nation. As the 1950 constitution decided in its favour ,the responsibility of its implementation was left to the states. The two major legislations through which these reforms were affected in the erstwhile state of J&K were-“The big landed estates abolition act 1950 and the J&K agrarian reforms act 1976. In fact J&K was the first state in the country to implement the Non-compensatory land reforms much before Kerala did the same. Under the “Big landed estates act of 1950, the upper limit for land holding was reduced to 22.5 acres ,which was further reduced to 12.5 acres through the Agrarian act of 1976. All the land in excess to the ceiling was then expropriated by the state and transferred to the tillers .The decision on compensation was taken later in 1951 by the constituent assembly of the state which decided against paying the compensation award to the landlords a very first of sorts precedent in India having long term implications. It was their belief that the system that resulted in this kind of stark disparity in land ownership was deeply exploitative and hence neither the state nor the beneficiaries of the reforms owed any compensation to the landlords who had benefitted from this tyrannical system to no end.
These reforms as first envisioned and articulated by the leaders of National conference leaders was introduced by them in the “Naya Kashmir” (New Kashmir) manifesto in 1944. The basic premise on which these land reforms were carried were two i.e abolition of intermediaries and ‘land to the tiller” . The dual policy logic behind the land reforms could be classified firstly as “Economic logic” -the most rational and economic use of scare land resource with out any waste of labour and land.This logic was against unproductive accumulation of land resources. The second logic being “Redistributive logic” -redistribution of land resources in favour of the less privileged classes with a view to end exploitation. Having had gone through a detailed preview of circumstances under which the land reforms took place in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir ,I just want to take the readers of this write up to the stark facts which are facing the farmers marginal as well as small in a menacing manner to no end. It has to be borne in mind by the general readership that land reforms notwithstanding ,the average land holding of farmers in the erstwhile state of J&K is a meager 1.5 acres which is very nominal for any worthwhile sustenance of a family dependent upon it.
There are various research papers, seminars and conferences put forward by the eminent economists and thinkers like George Mathews and Jean Derize who have repeatedly voiced their concern against the marginalized sections of the society affected by the skewed land reforms measures undertaken by the Governments of the day particularly in J&K. But before I dwell upon the view points of these eminent economists who have written reams of paper on how these land reforms have revolutionized the rural side of J&K, let me state my own few facts which I have drawn from my own experience after having seen, toured and interacted with the people in general and farmers in particular of this Union Territory of which I too am a permanent resident. Some facts from the history. Firstly after having signed the 1846 “Treaty of Amritsar” between Maharaja Gulab Singh and Frederick Currie the official representative of the British Crown in exchange of 75 lakhs Nanakshashi rupees, the Maharaja often rued his decision for this treaty lamenting the fact that more than 95% of the state was mountainous and non productive. Coupled with this was the fact that there were many small to medium Jagirs which were to be amalgamated into the overall fabric of the newly created kingdom which demanded lot of money and manpower from him thereby nullifying the profits thus accrued from this treaty. Not to be sucked into the historical realm of this treaty ,the plank on which Sheikh Abdullah and his cohorts undertook agrarian reforms to undo the “Big landed estates act was economic emancipation of the people of J&K, but hidden within it was their ulterior motive to consolidate their vote bank in Kashmir division by way of appealing to the 80% peasantry of that area.
If one was to have a very impartial and dispassionate view of the agrarian reforms so very vehemently claimed by the successive National Conference State Governments in this erstwhile state one would be shocked to find that hardly any worthwhile effort has been made by these people since the days of Maharaja Pratap Singh and Ranbir Singh who undertook upon themselves to build the famous Ranbir canal and Pratap canal as an example. There are many more such issues which I would discuss later . Jammu division as well as Kathua division has canals viz.. Ranbircanal, Pratap canal, Ranjan canal, Pargwal Canal, Kathua Canal and last but not the least the Ravi Tawi canal in addition to various Zamindar Khuls and field channels.They all irrigate about 1 lakh hectares of land and approximately 842 villages in this general area. The total distance of these canals run into about 3000 kms with water being released every year in the month of April /Baisakhi from the headwork site MRC , Jammu Mishriwala and head work site at NPC Akhnoor.These above mentioned canals are in fact small tributaries branching off from the main feeder canals of Ranbir and Pratap canal constructed in the recent past. As for their description, the main Ranbir canal is a 60 kms originating from the left bank of river Chenab and having an intake capacity of 1400 cusecs irrigating about 38608 hectares of land in Jammu and Samba. The new Pratap canal is about 33 kms long and discharges about 400 cusecs. It irrigates about 9028 hectares of farm land in Akhnoor and Chamb area. The Ravi Tawi canal has distribution network of about 175 kms and discharges about 300 cusecs and irrigates about 12880 hectares of land in Kandi belt on both sides of NH connecting Jammu and Samba. The successive State Governments in J&K have failed to regularly repair and desilt these canals resulting in acute distress of the farmers making thereby them to depend upon groundwater by using huge pumps.
Ahead of the Rabi season in the Jammu region where thousands of acres of land is being prepared for cultivation of wheat, pulses etc farming is becoming unsustainable due to rising input costs. Across the villages which are irrigated by these three canals i.e Ranbir ,Pratap and the Ravi Tawi canal one could see huge water submersible pumps guzzling water from underground deep aquifers. Thus the tall claims made by the irrigation and Flood Control Dept of J&K stand exposed . According to the farmers to whom I spoke recently on a visit to my ancestral farm land ,a majority of distributaries have not been cleaned and desilted for years which has hindered the flow of these canals . At places especially along the Ranbir canal water seeps out from the banks due to lack of desilting thereby reducing the carrying capacity of these canals.
Though regular funds are released by the UT dispensation for the desilting and de-weeding of these canals ,but everything happens on paper leaving the farmers in a dire need. For land reforms to be effective , a very holistic approach to the issue encompassing related facets have to be undertaken . Digitization of land records, record of land holdings, irrigation facilities of various kind, uninterrupted power supply during the peak harvesting season, Chak Bandi /consolidation of land holding of an individual at one place, Kandi watershed programmes, a regular interface between the agro based industries and the farmers , a viable and effective marketing environment wherein the poor farmer without being fleeced by the middle men gets his remunerative price due on his crops are some of the issues which is the need of the hour in J&K . I shall tackle these issues one by one head on . In case of digitization of land records in India, the same was started way back in 2001 about 20 years ago by means of DILRIMP/Digital india land record modernization programme. Karnataka was the first state in India, to complete the digitization of their land records under “Project Bhoomi”.By 2007, 3 states had already completed this task. The states being Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In case of J&K the digitization has just recently being undertaken under the CORS/ Continous operating reference station system wherein the equipment is tagged with a dish antenna linked to a satellite to get accurate coordinates of the land under consideration. Thus J&K is about 20 years behind the country’s scheduled programme of digitization of land records. Can somebody explain this delay from the previous State Government’s side? Similarly if one casts his/her eye towards the average land holding in J&K , he would find a total varied pattern of the land holdings which further complicates this already messy issue. The total land holdings in the erstwhile state stands at 14.42 lakhs ,out of which about 11.7 lakhs /81.4% are marginal farmers, 1.7 lakh /12.4% small farmers and 89 thousand or 6.2% as having more than 2 hectares of land. With majority of land holders being marginal and their holdings being mountainous with very low level of irrigation made available to them could Gupkar alliance leaders justify their stance of being a staunch holder of farmer’s interest in J&K ?
As if the above calumny of sorts indulged in by the successive State Governments was not enough to befool the farmer community of J&K, the “Roshni act ” was slapped on the hapless people to grab land in the name of regularizing “Shamlat land/Govt land by a select few cronies of these political class. The primary aim being to vest ownership rights to the occupants in hold of prime Government land. Any body who could come and fill an application and pay a nominal fees could get his/her land regularized by the Government. The ultimate aim being to generate money for undertaking welfare measures, which the State Government thought would fetch them up about Rs 25000 crores thus bringing the so called” Roshni” in the lives of Kashmiri people. However to cut the long story short the CAG/Comptroller and auditor General of India has noted in 2014 that a meager Rs 75 crores only has been so far collected thus rendering the claims of these state dispensations as a fluke.Rightly so in 2018, the bluff was called off by the then Governor when he annulled this Roshini act and recently the Government has told that all that land grabbed in the name of this dubious act be taken back for its rightful use. It is only in the recent past that J&K has been able to rightfully claim its share of water from Punjab flowing in river Ravi regulated by the Shahpurkandidam . The project will help irrigate about 37000 hectares of land in Punjab and J&K as also produce about 206 MWs of clean power. Presently J&K is utilizing only 0.215 MAF/Million acre feet of water from Ravi and is entitled to in fact 0.69 MAF of water .
This project will immensely benefit the districts of Kathua and Samba besides some areas of Jammu. It will help irrigate 32000 hectares (80000 acres) of land in the Kandi area upstream and down stream along the Jammu-Pathankot national highway. This will ensure added prosperity of the farmers in these and will lead to overall development of the region. Suffice it to say that the above actions should have been initiated by the previous Governments for reaping the benefits which have been only now kickstarted. The need of the hour is to have an active interface of farmers with the institutes like the SKUAST on the lines of PAU/Punjab agricultural university and usher in new and newer methods of farming based on the local requirements and climate so that a real climate of upliftment of farmer community takes shape in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir rather than indulging in rhetorical statements.