How much farmland has India lost?
Due to the buying spree in rural land, how much farmland has India lost? According to the ministry of agriculture, almost none.
It says India lost 16,000 sq km, or 0.8% of her gross cropped area, in the 10-year period to 2010-11. The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), in fact, says land under cultivation stayed constant in the last 10 years.
Another number comes from the Census Department, which says area under urban use jumped by 24,000 sq km during the same period. Much of this would have been at the expense of rural land. “As cities grow, agricultural area around them comes down,” says a senior official of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press.
Even this might be conservative. Micro-studies and anecdotal observations suggest the extent of loss of agricultural land is greater. In ‘Land Alienation and Local Communities: Case Studies in Hyderabad-Secunderabad’, a paper published in the Economic & Political Weekly in August 2007, V Ratna Reddy and B Suresh Reddy write: “Agriculture (has) ceased to be the main activity in all the 25 mandals in and around Hyderabad. The total sown area that has gone out of cultivation in these mandals is estimated at more than 90,000 hectares (900 sq km).”
The paper goes on to add that only 10% of the total sown area in the district is being cultivated. “Considering developments across Andhra Pradesh, the loss of cultivable land could be around half a million hectares (5,000 sq km) even by a conservative estimate,” it says. And this is just one state.
According to Ramesh Chand of the National Centre for Agricultural Policy and Research, fertile lands being replaced by less fertile lands is one reason why the magnitude of this shift might be understated. NRSC data between 2004-05 and 2011-12 shows a decline in the areas of shrublands, grasslands, grazing lands, swamps and wastelands—poorer alternatives to fertile land if co-opted into farming.
“Good land with high productivity is being reduced to banjar zameen (barren land). What about agricultural production?” asks Shiv Sena MP from Maharasthra Anil Patil, who estimates that areas around Pune have lost 20% of their agricultural land.