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Small-Scale Farmers In Borivali Demand Compensation For Damaged Crops Due To Heavy Rains In November

Even as the Maharashtra government is working out a plan to compensate farmers who suffered crop damage due to unseasonal rain and hail storms last week, owners of small farms in Mumbai are asking for similar damages. 

Farmers who maintain small vegetable and paddy farms in Manori, Culvem, and Gorai villages, which fall under Borivali taluka, said their crops were damaged in the heavy rains on November 27. They said they have approached the office of Tahsildar, an unit officer under the district collector, for compensation but have received no assurance or help.

Govt does’t recognise agriculture as an occupation in Mumbai city limits

Ironically, some of them are certified as farmers though the government does not recognise agriculture as an occupation in Mumbai city limits. 

The family of Switsy Henriques, residents of Gorai village, received a certificate in October 2023 from the Borivali Tahsildar’s office, recognising them as farmers. “But when I went to the same office to find out what welfare schemes my family can apply for as farmers we were told that since the area is part of Mumbai the government does not recognise farming as a profession,” said Henriques.

Recently, a group of local farmers set up an association called the Gorai Shetkari Vikas Sanghatna to voice their demands to be recognised as farmers so that they can avail of government schemes, including crop damage compensation, fertilizer subsidies, and reduced tariff on electricity for water pumps. The group has around 100 members in Gorai village and are enrolling farmers from Manori and Culvem.

Desmond Paul, secretary of the Sanghatna, said, “Our families have been doing farming for donkey’s years but have been overlooked by the government.” Paul, whose family grows rice, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other produce for their own use and for sale in the city, added, “There was no organisation or association to tell the government that we farmers exist.”

“There is no one to hear us”

The lack of recognition as farmers by the government is frustrating, said Dejina Prabhu, a resident of Gorai  “There is no one to hear us. My family thinks it is a waste of time to engage with the government agencies on the issue. There is no one fighting for us,” said Prabhu. 

Farmers in the three villages are not the ‘urban farmers’ feted in cities like New York for turning abandoned or vacant plots into vegetable and fruit farms, but have been cultivators for generations. 

Prabhu’s family, for instance, has been farmers for generations, growing rice and vegetables like cabbage, brinjal, cauliflower, and other vegetables on their farm.  “I feel, obviously, when it comes to farming the government gives support. We have been deprived of these facilities for ages. This is unfair,” said Prabhu.

Anger among residents

Residents are angry about the government’s lack of clarity on their status as farmers. Henriques’ mother-in-law, Annie, recently received a certificate that recognises her as a farmer.

The family grows Alphonso mangoes and vegetables like tomato, chillies, and lady’s fingers on their one-and-half acre plot in Gorai.

Henriques had to make numerous trips to the tehsildar’s office for the last seven months. “They said no farmers have been identified in Mumbai,” added Henriques who filed a ‘Pik Pahani’ declaration at the tehsildar’s office to mark her family’s status as farmers despite the office’s insistence that they do accept the document in Mumbai. This document, now also accepted online under the e-crop survey portal, is a proof of farming activity. “When they refused to accept the pik Pahani paper I asked them to list the reasons on paper. I filed the document ad proof that we still farm on our land,” said Henriques. 

Estimates of farmland affected by adverse weather incidents last week across the state is around 3.9 lakh hectares, with districts in Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra most affected. District collectors have been asked to give a report on the damage.

The Henriques family said that the mango trees which are now in the flowering season were affected by last week’s rains. “This is not fruiting season for mango but if the flowers are damaged the fruit yield will be affected. We have been suffering losses for the past few years,’ said Henriques.  

Demand for financial support

Watchdog Foundation, a community group, has written to the on behalf of the farmers. “In light of the recent unseasonal rains and storms that have adversely affected their seasonal crops, it has come to our attention that these farmers have not received the financial assistance and support they urgently need.’

“It is disheartening to note that despite the state government’s release of Rs 177.80 crore as relief for Maharashtra’s farmers who suffered crop losses in March, 2023, the farmers in the mentioned regions of Mumbai have not received any such aid. This situation raises concerns about the equitable distribution of relief funds and support mechanisms for farmers across the state,” says a letter from the group to the government. 

The group said that the Tahsildar’s office in Borivali has not taken any measures to inform local farmers about various government schemes available for their benefit.”The lack of awareness about these schemes compounds the challenges faced by farmers, hindering their access to much-needed financial assistance and support,” the group has said, adding that Gram Sevaks, or village officers, should be appointed to ensure that farmers in urban areas are not be discriminated against.

Borivali Tahsildar, Iresh Chappalwar, was not available for a comment, but another official said that welfare schemes for farmers are not available in Mumbai because it is classified as an urban area. ‘A Government Resolution says that there is no agriculture in Mumbai,” the official. 

The official did not answer questions about recent documents that some families in the area had received, certifying them as farmers. 

Rossi D’souza, a teacher at Don Bosco High School Borivali, and a resident of Gorai, said, “Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, farmers from our village bring their produce to sell in the Borivali market near the jetty. This is well-known but the government behaves as if farmers don’t exist,” said D’souza.

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