Urbanisation of Maharashtra
With rapid urbanisation, and more land being developed for Special Economic Zones (SEZs), townships and industries, land under cultivation has reduced drastically. The state’s agriculture commissioner, Prabhakar Deshmukh, admits that this is a worrying trend: “In Pune district, for instance, townships are being constructed about 60 to 70kms away from the city, and each of these special townships requires 100 acres of land. The scene is worrying us; rapid urbanisation has taken place over last three years.’’ The rapidly disappearing tracts of agricultural land are there for all to see. In Thane, paddy was cultivated along the Ghodbunder Road, till 2002-2003. Today, these fields have given way to multi-storeyed towers. Villages are being acquired for SEZs in the neighbouring Raigad district, where paddy was the chief crop. The Yeoor village in Thane was once home to rice plantations, but now, a very small part of it is cultivated. Vegetable farms in Vasai have been bought by builders.With the state government’s plans to develop the Mumbai Metropolitan Region extending up to Matheran taking shape, farmlands are set to reduce even more. In Karjat, paddy fields have given way to bungalows. Raigad is another victim to the slew of SEZs. A senior IAS officer posted in Mantralaya, said, “In Pune, the government is easing norms for development up to 10kms of land. This will help us rationalise the development. But at the same time, more agricultural land will reduce.’’ According to former Congress minister, Anant Thopte, Pune is one of the worst hit areas. Thopte, who hails from Bhor in Pune, said, “Builders are even buying hills.’’ Pradeep Shinde, a resident of Karnala village along Mumbai-Goa Highway, said, “Farmers find it uneconomical—produce does not earn them enough money.’’ But a few farmers in Mumbai are resisting the change. For instance, vegetables are grown along the tracks under the ‘Grow More’ food campaign conducted by the railways. At Aarey Colony, a small tract of land is used for paddy farming. Ever since the liberalisation process began in 1991, the figures of land loss have steadily risen over the last two years, but the agriculture department is yet to collate the data. However, the agriculture department officials say that crop output has increased. Last year, the state had a bumper crop, on account of good and regular rainfall last monsoon. The state produced 124.60 lakh tonnes of cereals on 91,490sq km of land in 2007-2008 as opposed to 1993-94, where 1,07,400sq km yielded 113.45 lakh tonnes of cereals. A similar trend is also seen in the production of foodgrain. Reports show that 154.84 lakh tonnes of foodgrain was cultivated on 1,32,050 sq km in 2007-2008. But, in 1993-94, the state produced 21.99 lakh tonnes on 34.490 sq km of land. Similar trends are seen in the production of pulses, oilseeds, cotton and sugarcane. The reason for this is better technology, use of fertilisers, and the presence of irrigation facilities. However, the downside is that the increase in production is not directly proportional to the rise in population. The silver lining in this dark cloud of urbanisation is that land under forest cover has increased from 51,279sq km in 1990-91 to approximately 52,122 sq km in 2005-06. (Maharashtra had a forest cover spread of over 54,135sq km when it was carved out of Bombay Province in 1960). It’s not just Maharashtra that’s facing land loss in the hands of urbanisation. Most states in India are also grappling with this problem. In Kerala, for instance, there was a hue and cry when paddy fields were bought by the ‘Gulf-returned’ Malayalees, to construct swank bungalows. The government tightened the screws on them. Goa, too, witnessed a similar trend, when its paddy fields gave way to apartments, housing colonies and resorts.