On March 9, as I tuned to a television news channel to get updated on latest news, I stumbled upon a few farmers who were agonised by damage of their standing wheat and vegetable crops.
The rains had not done this damage, it was the bulldozers and land levelling rollers that did it.
Hundreds of acres of cropland were allegedly levelled and flattened by the machines to make way for the recently concluded World Cultural Festival, organised by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation.
The farmers who were speaking to the TV reporter said that some of them have been offered compensation at the rate of Rs.4,000 per acre while some others said they were away when their crop lands were bulldozed and nobody even tried to contact them before destroying their crops.
The farmers, hailing from Chilla village located in the demarcated area of Yamuna floodplains in the heart of Delhi had been opposed to the event since February 19 and staged a protest and a day’s hunger strike on March 9.
But neither the administration nor the police came to their aid. Rather, they alleged, some of their leaders were arrested by police.
The three-day AOL event that was inaugurated by no less than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 11 got embroiled in several controversies, including the damage to farmers’ crop.
During an interview with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, that same day Sri Sri refuted that farmers were affected by his gala event, in the same way, he had refuted the damage done to Yamuna floodplains.
Much like a matured politician, he blamed “politics” behind the farmers’ protests.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has exposed the AOL’s lies on the floodplain damage, but the farmers are still looking for relief.
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The loss per acre has been to the tune of Rs.20,000 to Rs.28,000, as they claim, but only a few of them have got only Rs.4,000 per acre.
For many farmers, the loss has been more than just the damage to the crops. Their lands have been flattened for the approach road and other purposes of the event.
Unlike the ones who have faced only crop loss, they have to re-invest on rejuvenating the soil quality and start farming again.
The process will take about a year and the farming families have to bear huge losses and go through a lot of hardships.
Rains to rescue?
The Indian Meteorological Department, as well as private weather forecasters, had predicted rains and hailstorms in Delhi for the period during which the cultural fest was held. It indeed rained heavily for some time.
Perhaps the crops of the farmers would have been damaged anyway by the rain and hailstorms.
The question here is, would that have fetched better compensation to the farmers than the human intervention done by the AOL? We are not sure.
In April 2015, the central government increased crop compensation by almost 50 percent for weather related damages.
However, compared to the investments that farmers have to make, this compensation is not even a half of it.
Our experience shows, in the case of damage to crops done by private and powerful people, often the farmers have to depend on the mercy of the predators for compensation if any. Same is the case with farmers of Chilla village.
Farmer friendly government needed
It needs a sensitive government to deal with this issue. Despite several shortcomings, there is a tribunal to defend the environment.
In the case of AOL damaging Yamuna floodplains, the NGT definitely made a strong judgement.
But farmers are as good as orphans. There is no national farmers’ protection tribunal where activists can go and fight for their right to proper compensation and justice.
Demonstrations, fasting and other peaceful protests have not helped. They cannot be violent as the pro-Jat reservation activists either.
First of all, the state has to recognise the farmers’ rights. Then, the loss needs to be assessed thoroughly and the farmers compensated with immediate and adequate relief amounts.
Along with the restoration of the Yamuna floodplains, the crop fields then need to be restored by imposing necessary fines on those responsible for the damage.
Last but not the least, the organisers need to be punished for having bulldozed and destroyed the crop fields of farmers without their consent.
Attending the last day of the AOL event, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia hailed the role of farmers in keeping the Yamuna floodplains protected.
“We all should thank the farmers who have kept this area protected, otherwise it would have been home to unauthorised colonies by now,” Sisodia was quoted in newspapers as saying.
Can we expect Sisodia and Delhi Government to take up the cause of the farmers?
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been appealing to Sri Sri for his help in restoring the Yamuna. Can he identify the predator that damaged the cropland and let it restore the farmers’ livelihood as well?
(Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert)