Vegetable farming continues despite NGT ban on it since 2015
Vegetable farming on the floodplains of the Yamuna continues unabated despite a ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015. It was only in December 2018 that the Delhi government proposed to launch an awareness campaign to dissuade citizens from eating vegetables grown on the river’s banks as they contain toxins.
“A public awareness campaign was agreed to be undertaken for discouraging agriculture and cultivation of vegetables on the Yamuna floodplain and by dissuading people from eating such produce as it leads to entry of toxins in the food chain,” stated a record note of discussions of a meeting held by a NGT-appointed committee.
In 2015, the NGT had directed that no authority shall permit and no person shall carry out any edible crops or fodder cultivation on the floodplain till Yamuna is made free and is restored to its natural wholesomeness.
A record note signed by the two members of the NGT-appointed committee, Shailaja Chandra and BS Sajwan, read, “ Since the pollution of the river has increased manifold, the monitoring committee requested that an early direction be given to the authorities concerned.”
Government officials said it is difficult to keep an eye on the entire floodplain or stop farmers from growing vegetable. A senior government officer, who did not wish to be named, said, “Within Delhi, the Zone O (River zone) is almost 52km long and 800 metres to 3.5 km wide, depending on the location.
In all it covers some 9,700 hectares. Yes, farming takes places in this zone but It is not possible to evict all farmers and stop farming without giving them an alternate source of income.”
Farmers, however, said if growing vegetables along the river is stopped then Delhi would have to depend on supplies from the neighbouring states which would not just lead to price rise but also citizens getting stale stock.
Farming is carried out all along the Yamuna’s stretch which is more than 22 km long.
The concern stems from the notion that farmers depend on the polluted river water to irrigate the fields. Earlier studies by TERI, Toxics Link and other NGOs had suggested that the vegetables and soil samples contain high doses of metals such as lead, nickel chromium and mercury.
“Barring a few individuals, no farmer uses the dirty water from the Yamuna. Even those using the river water directly use it only to grow cattle feed. We use bore wells to use ground water that is safe,” said Nirbhay Singh, a farmer whose family owns nearly 600 bighas of land.
Farmers claimed that their products are regularly tested by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and levels of pesticides have been found to be within safe limits. The interim report submitted by the NGT-committee in the green court suggested that farmers should be made aware of the adverse effects associated with excess use of certain pesticides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, irrigation water (if contaminated) during cultivation. Organic farming may also be explored in these areas.
The NEERI report also says that farmers may be asked to maintain details of their land under cultivation, type of crops grown, quantity and source of water used, type and quantity of fertilizers, pesticides or any other substance used for different crops in different seasons. This would help to keep a tab on the farming practices, the report suggests.