The Central Railway (CR) has decided to do away with its existing system of growing vegetables on the empty land patches along the railway tracks on its Mumbai suburban network and replace them with flowering shrubs and ornamental plants.
The farming of vegetables along the tracks in one of India’s most crowded urban conglomerate was once a novelty, but it also attracted criticism when it was found that in many places irrigation was provided by drainage water flowing nearby.
The move to replace the vegetable farms with flower beds will beautify the railway route, officials said, adding that the plan is to bring around 150 acres of railway land at around 115 locations in the Mumbai division under floriculture cultivation.
For the last several decades, green vegetables, such as spinach, fenugreek and okra, were being cultivated on empty railway lands along the tracks. To save these open spaces from encroachment, the railways had allowed its employees to carry out farming on lease there under the ‘Grow More Food’ scheme.
However, objections were raised when it came to light that waste water was often used for irrigation.
The railway officials said the cultivation of flowers alongside the tracks will make the train journey more pleasant for the passengers and also end the problem of growing vegetables using drainage water.
Shivaji Sutar, chief public relations officer of the Central Railway, told PTI that it has decided not to renew the existing licences issued for vegetable cultivation on railway lands anymore.
“Instead, cultivation of flowers, medicinal herbs and ornamental plants will be permitted on the leased railway land and we have identified around 150 acres of land at around 115 locations in Mumbai division of the Central Railway,” he said.
Another railway official said the CR had earlier invited expression of interest (EOI) from interested individuals, firms and agencies, but they did not receive expected response.
As per the EOI, the 150 acres of land is spread across several locations on the CR’s suburban network. At some locations like Kharghar and Kopar Khairane in Navi Mumbai, the land used for this purpose is as big as three to four acres.
He said that they had received responses from some interested parties, but they were willing to set up plant nurseries on railway land instead of cultivating flowers and other ornamental or medicinal plants and hence the authorities turned down their proposal.
Apart from this, the railway is going to develop “green patches” next to the platforms of 125 suburban stations to beautify the area around them under the new policy of the Railway Board.
Recently, the Indian Railway has come up with a policy for beautification of its land into an “environment friendly area” with the help of individuals, NGOs, trusts, charitable institutions, corporate houses, government bodies and self-help groups (SHGs) with the participation of people.
Under the plan, the railways will give its land free of cost to individuals, social organisations, NGOs and corporate houses and they will have to develop green patches and maintain them for a year. In return, they will be allowed to display their name on the plot.
The official said that they have already invited EOI for the beautification of the approach areas of suburban railway stations and it is scheduled to open by August 22 and a meeting is scheduled a few days before it.
According to the CR, the move will not only make the area around the station beautiful and clean, but also deter passengers from throwing garbage on the tracks.
“Beautification of railway land will help keep the area around the tracks clean and beautiful,” Sutar said, adding that barring a few patches, the land is spread around 125 suburban stations in Mumbai.
Every day, around 40 lakh commuters travel on Central Railway’s suburban network.
Vinayak Shewale, station master of the Sandhurst Road station on the main line of Central Railway, has already created a green patch next to the tracks by cleaning the open area and planting various ornamental and flower plants with the help of his colleagues.