If you find flowers blooming on a vacant piece of land along the tracks on the suburban section of Central Railway’s Mumbai Division, don’t be surprised. This is exactly what the CR is planning in association with Nashik’s Sahyadri Farms all along the tracks.
This initiative is aimed at beautifying and keeping the tracks clean, besides protecting the unused land from encroachers. After a preliminary survey, it was decided that the pilot project would be implemented between Parel and Dadar, said a senior Central Railway official. The CR officials and Sahyadri Farms are giving final touches to the plan to use the unused railway land for growing flowers.
“The sight of garbage and overflowing drains along railway tracks adds to the woes of passengers. Besides being an eyesore, garbage or debris along the tracks is a health and safety hazard,” said the officer.
This garbage is generally dumped by people who live in slums close to the tracks. Though the CR has erected stone masonry and RCC boundary wall almost parallel to tracks right from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus to Thane and CSMT to Mankhurd, still the garbage dumping is rampant. The boundary wall is frequently damaged for littering the tracks. The muck is also generated by railways’ maintenance of tracks like deep screening and shallow screening of track ballast, said the officer. Besides slum dwellers, the train passengers also contribute to littering by throwing empty packets of food items, tea cups, water bottles and other things. It is a herculean task for railways to collect and dispose of this garbage, he said.
“The stink from adjacent drains in which sewer is connected by hutment dwellers poses a two-fold problem. First the percolated water causes mud pumping and damage to tracks. Second, the labourers are reluctant to work at such locations adding to further damage and deterioration of track besides creating unsafe conditions,” said the officer.
The railway staff and unions often protest asking why the workers should be subjected to such unhealthy working conditions.
The railways tried to mitigate the problem by launching the innovative ‘Grow More Food’ scheme, under which vacant land is given to the serving railway employees for growing vegetables for a nominal licence fee. The scheme has been abolished in other parts of India but allowed to continue in Mumbai Division only to protect railway land from encroachments and abuse of garbage dumping.
Railways’ licence agreement stipulated that the cultivator has to source potable water from a well or bore well. Many NGOs have expressed concerns about the quality of water being used for cultivation of vegetables. It is alleged that the drain water is used for cultivation, rendering the vegetables unsuitable for human consumption.
“Whenever it is noticed by authorities that water other than potable water has been used, such licenses are cancelled. Railways’ prime intention is to protect vulnerable railway land from encroachments and also reduce the nuisance of garbage dumping,” said a senior officer of CR.
“Keeping in mind all these issues, the idea of floriculture in place of vegetable cultivation was mooted by CR’s Mumbai Division. We are finalising an agreement with the Sahyadri Farms to start this project between Dadar and Parel on a pilot basis. If we succeed, the project will be gradually extended to other areas of Mumbai division,” said the CR officer.
“Railways have more than 100 acres of vacant land which can be used for floriculture or cultivation of non-edible farm products. It will be a visual treat to passengers and one of its kind in India. Railways are open to all organisations or NGO which are interested in developing vacant railway land. This is just a beginning. We require more to make the railway land garbage free,” he said.
“Under this pilot project, Sahyadri Farms is planning to help railway trackside area management contractors for flower production instead of growing vegetables in the trackside area,” said Vilas Shinde, chairman, Sahyadri Farms.
Flowers planned under this project are roses, marigold, chrysanthemum, and a few seasonal flowers. This pilot project will be implemented on a four-acre planting area along the tracks between Parel and Dadar.
“Sahyadri Farms’ team is planning to supply planting material along with drip irrigation system, fertiliser, agronomy support, training, and sales support to contractors as a CSR activity. We as a farmer community are really happy to contribute to such unique urban projects with the help of railway authorities,” Shinde said. Sahyadri Farmers Producer Co Ltd, widely known as Sahyadri Farms, based at Mohadi, Nashik is an organisation owned by one hundred farmers who manage a 25,000-acre growing area. More than 10,000 horticulture farmers are associated with it.