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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Delhi’s farmers struggle to protect land, their identity

The area under cultivation in Delhi has reduced by over 34% in Delhi since 2000-2001.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 09, 2019 08:53 IST
Soumya Pillai and Ashish Mishra
Soumya Pillai and Ashish Mishra
New Delhi
Lok Sabha elections 2019,farmers struggle,farmlands
The urban expanse of the national capital has left little land for the tillers who are faced with the proposition of either selling their land to make way for concrete buildings or wage a battle for identity and survival. (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

Delhi, the city, is eating up its farmlands. The urban expanse of the national capital has left little land for the tillers who are faced with the proposition of either selling their land to make way for concrete buildings or wage a battle for identity and survival.

The area under cultivation in Delhi has reduced by over 34% in Delhi since 2000-2001. Farmlands in Delhi lie scattered in the Yamuna catchment area, Okhla, Northwest Delhi, Najafgarh and Mehrauli blocks. Wheat, paddy and vegetables are main crops grown in these areas. Experts pointed out that this discontinuity in the farming area is one of the reasons why successive governments have not given agriculture the attention it needed.

Several farmers HT talked to said it has all come down to compensation after rain and squall. “Our problems don’t end with occasional compensations. Heavy rain and squall anyway an occasional occurrence, what about the rest of the year? Farmers like us have only become vote banks. No party wants to take up our issues, they only want our votes,” said 55-year-old Pardeep Sujan, a farmer from Najafgarh’s Jharoda Kalan.

Farmers, no more

Under the land pooling policy notified by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in October 2018, 95 villages in the city, including Najafgarh, Chhawla, Dichaon Kalan, Nangli Sakrawat, Alipur, Bhalswa, Ladpur Jahangirpur and many others, were stripped of their rural character.

Vijay Maal, a farmer in North West Delhi’s Mundka, said his small patch of farmland is now surrounded by industrial units, which have poisoned the groundwater. He said the sewage from the railway line nearby also flows into his farm, ruining months of work. His family grows wheat and vegetables.

“The industry owners and land grabbers are after us to sell our land for R5-6 crore. They threaten us that now we can still bargain for our land but once the land pooling policy is strictly implemented we will have to give our land at throwaway prices,” Maal said.

But the worst impact of this fast urbanisation is that it has stripped the farmer of its identity. Since hundreds of farmers in Delhi are not identified as cultivators, they don’t get government subsidies for seeds and farming equipment.

“The government says we are not farmers. But when we contribute so much to the economy and sustain the supply of foodgrains and vegetables then why don’t you provide us with the subsidies that we deserve? The farmers everywhere else are entitled to it,” Ram said.

Bordering with Haryana, villages such as Dichaon Kalan, Mitraon and Jharoda Kalan claim to produce vegetables enough to sustain the city’s needs for two days.

“My father was a farmer and so was my grandfather. How can I just give this up?” he said.

In a 2008 Delhi government notification the farmers of Delhi lost their farmer status to make way for urbanisation in the city. The idea was to ease land acquisition to develop areas, which were under the farm belt. The repercussion, however, was that the farmers also lost their rights over government subsidies and other benefits.

West Delhi MP and BJP candidate Parvesh Verma said the benefits of Central government’s welfare schemes for farmers is not reaching the ones in Delhi since his party was not in power in the state. “I have been telling people that the reasons the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gives for not doing their work are excuses. The BJP government in the Centre has passed several incentives for farmer welfare but it does not reach the needy,” Verma said.

Concerns and issues

Since water for irrigation is scarce and land holdings are not comparatively big, most farmers in Delhi depend on tube wells for irrigation. Inflated power bills to run tube well is one of the major concerns of the farmers, especially those who live in areas bordering Haryana, where agriculture is still the primary business for residents.

Krishna Kumar Vats, 67, of Tatesar Village in North West Delhi, said “unjustified” increase in the fixed charges of the electricity bills for agricultural connections has made it costlier to run tube wells.

“Earlier we had to pay ₹270 for a 6kw (kilowatt) tube well connection during off-season, but now the fixed charges have been increased by almost four times. So now, we have to pay at least Rs 1,050 for a 6kw connection that too when the facility is not in use,” Vats said.

Hukumdev Singh, a resident of Garhi Randala Village, said there are several months when tube wells are not in use but farmers have to still pay hefty bills because of the revision in fixed charges. “We are paying extra money for not using the facility. This is bizarre. The government should know that it is not easy for farmers to shell out over Rs 700 every month. We do not get salaries. Instead, we depend on our crops, which is in bad shape these days,” said Singh, 60.

AAP candidate from North West Delhi, Gugan Singh, who calls himself a ‘rural leader’, said he will work for farmer welfare, if the constituency sends him to parliament as its representative.

“I will work for the welfare of the farmers and try my level best to address their problems. I will work on the farmer’s issues such as providing them ownership rights of the land they were given on lease. The party (AAP) will also work on land acquisition related problems of the farmers,” he said.

Villagers demand that the political representatives must address their two key issues — getting them proper status of farmers and chakbandi (consolidation of fragmented revenue estates). “Chakbandi has not been done since 1952. Now, we undertake farming on our own expenses and pay heavy electricity bills. This election, we will vote for the one who promises to address these issues,” Vats added.

The shrinking farm belt

Data shows that between 2001 and 2011, Delhi’s rural population has more than halved—from 9.45 lakh to 4.20 lakh. The Economic Survey of Delhi 2017-18 highlights that between 2000 and 2016, the farmlands under cultivation decreased from 52,816 to 34,750 hectares. The report stated that the main reasons for falling agricultural activity in Delhi “fast urbanisation and shift in occupational pattern.” In 2011, just 1.31% of Delhi’s workforce was engaged in farming.

Diwan Singh from a citizens’ group Natural Heritage First, said for a city with as polluted air as Delhi agricultural growth is crucial to maintain ecological balance. “Delhi has no water bodies around it so the pollution levels will remain trapped unless there is proper greening. The more you expand the city the more it will trap harmful gases. You need agricultural lands around the city,” Singh said.

Promises unfulfilled

Though the Delhi government had promised ₹105 subsidy, per kW/month on fixed charges under agriculture electricity connections, farmers say that the benefit is yet to reach them.

Delhi power minister Satyendar Jain had announced that the subsidy will be applied from April 2018, and the government will pay back the money the farmers had to pay as fixed electricity charges since then.

The AAP government introduced the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farmers, based on the report of the MS Swaminathan Commission. The 2006 recommendations proposed that the farmers get 50% more than the weighted cost of production.

The BJP-led central government takes credit for its new ‘direct income support’ scheme, where farmers, who own up to 2 hectares (5 acres) of land, will be given a direct income support ₹2,000 every four months a year, which equals to ₹6,000. The catch, however, is that the majority of the city farmers do not own the required size of the land to claim benefits under the scheme.

“I don’t know when this benefit will reach us. As of now, these seem as hollow promises,” Harbinder Singh Chauhan, a farmer from Khera Village said.

Rishi Pal Ambawat, national president Bharathiya Kisan Union (Arajnaitik), said , “The farmers in Delhi are yet to receive the MSP as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan commission. The governments should not make promises only but also fulfil them,” he said.

The Delhi government has set a budgetary allocation of ₹100 crores for paying MSP to farmers in this years’ budget. Government officials said that the disbursement of the funds will begin as soon as the model code of conduct is over.

Mahavir Lal, general secretary of Kisan Saathi Union, said, “The situation in Delhi is different because here we don’t qualify as farmers. Schemes by the Union government, including the minimum income promise, means nothing to the farmers here.”

First Published: May 09, 2019 04:36 IST

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