Scores of farmers blocked traffic for nearly three hours in central Delhi’s Shanti Van area on Tuesday afternoon in protest against a drive by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to destroy crops on the banks of the Yamuna.
The DDA carried out the drive following a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order, which had earlier this year pointed out how agricultural activity along the river was contributing to water pollution.
The drive began at 10 am with nine bulldozers brought in to destroy crops along the riverbed. Nearly 100 police personnel were deployed to prevent any untoward incident.
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But, sources told The Indian Express that on Monday night, 5,000 farmers from surrounding areas of Usmanpur, Daryaganj and Akshardham had gathered and decided to oppose the drive.
On Tuesday morning, the farmers pelted stones at DDA officials when they arrived. When reinforcements were called in, the protesters took to the street and overturned a DDA official’s Tata Sumo before blocking traffic near Shanti Van.
In its efforts to ensure a pollution-free river, the NGT, on a petition, had ordered that all agricultural activity along the Yamuna be banned immediately since insecticides, pesticides and other chemicals used for crops were contributing to water pollution.
The NGT had observed that the pollutants were entering the groundwater eventually being consumed by city residents. The Tribunal had suggested that the farmers instead use the area for floriculture, sericulture and horticulture.
Manoj Pradhan, one of the heads of the farmers’ association in the area, claimed the land where they were growing crops had been allotted to them since the GNCTD was established. Subsequently, reportedly, an association comprising 10,000 farmers was formed with its office based in Ballimaran to promote agricultural activity. “This is the fourth generation surviving here. The land was already allotted to us. Shouldn’t we have been issued a warning? How can they just come and destroy our crops and houses? Where will we all go now? We have also challenged the NGT’s decision and our petition is still pending. How can they take action immediately?”
Senior DDA officials said the farmers had been informed in advance. “In fact, the NGT’s order is an incentive for the farmers to retain their land, only they can carry out floriculture, horticulture and sericulture. This will minimise the pollutants in the river and contribute to a cleaner and safer environment. Additionally, the jhuggis they had constructed, too, were unauthorised,” an official said.
Reportedly, AAP MLA Alka Lamba arrived at the spot and assured DDA officials that they would agree to carry out floriculture.