Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
Delhi’s ‘Homeless’ Farmers
In the floodplains of Yamuna along the 22-km long stretch of the river inside the administrative boundaries of Delhi, a community of thousands of tenant farmers tills the land in the shadow of the megacity. Farming activity continues around the year in a diversified, multi-crop system with minimal or zero use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Primarily, vegetables of numerous kinds are produced here but many farmers grow flowers, fruits, and herbs as well.
Most of these tenant farmers 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, and thus, allowing greater self-reliance.
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. Many of these farmers and their dependents have been living in the floodplains for more than 40-50 years. Yet the Census of India registers them under the demographic category of ‘homeless’ and the authorities see them as encroachers. While large structures such as Akshardham temple, Yamuna Bank metro station and depot, and Commonwealth Games village have been built in the floodplains zone, Delhi Development Authority frequently demolishes the bamboo hutments of farmers following an order by NGT that directs DDA to keep floodplains free from any permanent structures.
Farmers also self-organize a morning market to directly sell the fresh produce. For farmers in the floodplains, even if income is less and uncertain, work satisfaction and quality of life rank high.
COVID lockdown had initially brought the lives of 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. The resilience that the farmers had gained by defying the desperate attempts by the state of land grab has enabled them to fight the COVID crisis quite effectively.
Rajendra Ravi, People’s Resource Centre
Email Id: [email protected]
Floodplains are a critical part of the river ecology. In the case of the Yamuna in Delhi, floodplains are the area that is likely to get submerged at least once in 25 years.
Ownership of the land in the many parts of the floodplains is a matter of dispute as both DDA and the residents of erstwhile villages claim entitlement.