For Delhi’s ‘homeless farmers’, work satisfaction is important

    AgricultureFor Delhi's 'homeless farmers', work satisfaction is important
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    For Delhi’s ‘homeless farmers’, work satisfaction is important

    There are evidently different yardsticks for government officials to apply when it comes to the tenant farmers of Delhi’s Yamuna floodplains.

    In the floodplains of Yamuna, along a 22-km long stretch of the river and within the administrative boundaries of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, thousands of tenant farmers till the land. Farming activities continues around the year in the shadow of the megacity.

    It is a diversified, multi-crop system with minimal or zero use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Primarily, vegetables of numerous kinds are produced here but many farmers grow flowers, fruits, and herbs as well.

    The Yamuna’s floodplains are a critical part of the river’s ecology. The Yamuna river’s floodplains in Delhi are defined as an area likely to get submerged at least once in 25 years.

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    Most tenant farmers have migrated from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar. Being located near the city and being able to practise farming is a perfect combination for these farmers since they can retain control over the appropriation of their traditional skills and also secure better education opportunities for their children.

    The convenience of access to urban consumers and the market also provides them with better earnings. Moreover, farming provides them food security, reduces their household expenses on food, and relaxes the household budget to a great extent. It thus allows them greater self-reliance.

    Not for the poor

    The agreement between a farmer and supposed landlord is purely oral. Tenants pay an annual sum as rent to the landlords and sometimes share a portion of the produce as well. Ownership of the land in the many parts of the floodplains is a matter of dispute as both, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the the residents of erstwhile villages claim entitlement.

    DDA has plans to evict the farmers and migrant workers from these floodplains. For instance, in August 2020, while in the middle of the pandemic, DDA teams, with support from the Delhi police, arrived at the floodplains and crushed large part of crops and plants in nurseries using heavy machinery.

    Authorities see this as encroachments. Many of these farmers and their dependents have been living in the floodplains for over four decades. Yet, data recorded in the Census of India registers them under the demographic category of ‘homeless’ people.

    Evidently, the floodplains are not a place for the poor. The farmers are considered encroachers while large structures like the Akshardham temple, Yamuna Bank metro station, a DTC bus depot and Commonwealth Games village have been built in the floodplains zone. The difference in the DDA’s attitude towards those with deep pockets and the farmers is evident from the frequent demolishment of the farmer’s bamboo hutments and the crushing of their crop on orders of the national green tribunal (NGT) that has directed DDA to keep floodplains free from any permanent structures.

    It will be recalled that a godman was able to organise a three-day world culture festival on the Yamuna floodplains in 2016, rampaging the floodplains to make way for a celebration that the Prime Minister himself inaugurated, calling it an artistic prism to the country’s internal strengths. Earlier, a large media group too had organised a trade fair on the floodplains.

    Self sustaining

    Farmers also self-organize a morning market to directly sell the fresh produce. The farmers are satisfied with the small, often uncertain incomes from the cropping. Work satisfaction and quality of life rank high.

    The COVID-19 lockdown had initially brought the lives of these urban farmers at standstill and made them anxious about their future. However, their livelihood stresses got much relieved subsequently as the food supplies were deemed as essential services and the demand for fresh vegetables remained high.


    This piece has been sourced by an agreement with Vikalp Sangam — 

    Image: SANDRP

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