The Kandi Curse

Onkar Singh
And ownership in India has traditionally been viewed as a symbol of social status and economic power. But in the India of today, where neo liberal policy has dominated economy and society for the past over two decades, the importance of land has become all the more important. Land has now become a powerful means of increasing one’s wealth. Not only can land be used as collateral for bank loans but also be sold as parceled spaces in the form of multi-storey high rise commercial and residential buildings at exorbitant rates.
Land owning classes therefore have a win-win situation before them. This is true more of a land in the immediate vicinity of urban-industrial areas where expected demand in the near future induces real estate speculators to artificially raise the value of land many times its real market price, thereby offering far more lucrative alternative to farming for the land owners. This is the pivotal segment of changes that accompany industrial expansion in rural periphery.
Industrial town of Kathua is a case in point. The town has emerged as a favourable destination for industry for the past couple of decades. The government policies on industrialization in the State and locational advantage enjoyed by the town have all given industrial expansion a big push in the area which is not only the nearest manufacturing centre of the State for the rest of India but also is well connected with the latter by roads and railways. A crucial advantage to industrial expansion has come in the form of terrain which in absence of water is not suitable for productive agricultural operations.
The space that houses industrial areas forms a part of the Shivalik Kandi belt which is characterized by rugged topography, acute water scarcity even for drinking, scorching summer sun magnified by sparse vegetation cover, a low plant bio-mass and thin soil cover. Such a landscape could not sustain even the land owning families that pushed the Kandi farmers to become tenants in the water surplus fertile land of the region in the Aandhar belt down South. Male labour force either joined armed forces or worked as porters in cities elsewhere in the country. In absence of economic viability therefore the land holders willingly parted with land for money. So, manufacturing thrived where food grains could not be grown,. This process of industrial expansion now continues with ever more vigor and intensity. And as land acquisition for industry intensifies land prices and land rent in the area are shooting up. Residential and commercial properties are fetching greater returns, resulting in turn a wind fall for the land holders in the Kandi belt.
Maroli is one such village in the immediate periphery of industrial area where new industrial estates of the town are coming up. The village comprises a total of 170 families and a population of little more than 900 persons. Agricultural land of the village according to revenue records is 318 acres which at current market rate is worth more than Rs. 1270 crores. Since average size of landholdings in the village is approximately 19 kanals, it means a land owner holds landed property worth Rs. 9.5 crores.
But the rugged terrain of Maroli is worth many times more its current market price. The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Act 2013 provides for payment of compensations to land holders four times the market value in rural areas. This means even those marginal farmers who own just 10 kanals of land are worth Rs. 20 crores each. This amount is substantial by any reckoning considering that land under agriculture yielded very little.
Obviously, the Maroli land owning families are sitting on a gold mine! This class is already better off economically. The windfall therefore would enrich them further. The worst hit in this transaction between land owners and the industry would be those landless families whose livelihood depends on agricultural land. Industrial expansion in the Kandi would thus widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
Secondly, it would promote the concept of land not as a source of food security but as real estate to be traded for greater financial gains; a move that would intensify conversion of places into spaces. Transformation of Maroli village into Maroli Industrial Area is an example, which is unsustainable environmentally.
Third set of changes therefore relate to environmental question of industrial projects. In the hot dry hilly terrain, a precarious balance between plant cover and regional climatic conditions has evolved over the ages. Vegetation of the Kandi is well adapted to the hot dry climate and can withstand dry spells for years at a stretch. Besides checking soil erosion, it plays an important role in moderation of local temperature where mercury in summer months often crosses 45O C mark. Replacement of vegetation by concrete and fabricated structures over vast expanse would consequently further raise the already high temperature levels. This in turn would increase surface run off during monsoons, reduce ground water recharge and lower water table, but at the same time intensify soil erosion and gully formation thus reducing utility of adjacent land considerably. This loss cannot be undone as industry makes a place redundant for any other activity except itself.
Fourthly, water demand would increase from the land which is already water deficient. Industrial systems require water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This requirement would be met from the exploitation of ground water which is scarce in the area, located at greater depths and hence precious. But with advanced technology, readily available finance as well as institutional and ideological backup by the State, the industry has little difficulty in securing assured and abundant supply of this precious life sustaining resource for commercial use.
For example, the Textile Park which is coming up at Maroli on a sprawling 200 kanals of agricultural land adjacent to IIDC is a case in point. The Park which comprises as many as 27 inter-related textile units is a highly water intensive project. It would have four captive deep bore tube wells with a total pumping capacity of 10 lakh litres of fresh water a day for commercial use. Considering that the PHE Department supplies 600 litres of drinking water to a house hold per day, the voluminous 10 lakh litres of water can quench the thirst of as many as 1700 families in the area where tube well water supply is not only inadequate but also highly erratic. In other words, this much water can sustain as many as 10 villages the size of Maroli. But instead as much as 9 lakh liters of water a day would be utilized by the Park exclusively for dying the yarn!
This has serious repercussions for water supply in the area. A regular withdrawal of huge quantity of ground water by the industry would significantly lower the water table of the adjoining areas thereby reducing water supply from PHE managed tube wells particularly in summer when demand for water is also the highest. Abundance of water within industrial complexes for commercial purpose but acute scarcity even for drinking in the settlements outside would thus be the fifth issue that would accompany industrialization. Can water guzzling projects in the water starved Kandi be ever justified?
Pollution would be the sixth. The release of 9 lakh litres of dyed water a day round the year would find its way into the adjacent river, the Maggar Khadd where it would form a perennial channel polluting the surface and subsurface waters of the stream which is still used by the villagers and their domestic animals for drinking purposes, thus endangering the lives of both. Such life threatening establishments are all the more reprehensible as a dominant share of jobs would be cornered by the labour from outside the region? Industry in Kathua has become already synonymous with migrant workers.
As Maroli becomes the new address for industry and the sleepy village turns into another industrial estate, the value of land will rise further even if the place becomes unfit for living. This would force the locals either sell their land or convert it into commercial property. Either way, the land would replicate the existing Industrial Estates of Kathua on other side of the railway track where industries in the Red List outnumber those in the Green.
Bonanza for the land holders is a curse in disguise for Maroli. For, in the transformation from a land of rain fed farming to water intensive industry, Maroli would survive only in the name, and not in the land and people who are its raisons d’être. Are there no development alternatives for the Kandi other than life crippling industries?
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