BMC Displacing Methi Farmer Community At Versova Beach

The Coastal Road Project in Mumbai is displacing around 300 farmers from the land.

BMC employees patrolling Versova Beach

February 8, 2020. Mumbai, India - Versova Beach

According to farmers I spoke to, today marked Day 25 since the BMC began bulldozing the methi farming community's crops at Versova Beach.

It's been previous reported that the Coastal Road Project jeopardizes a Worli fishing community of about 11,000 residents who occupy the Versova shoreline. But not much has been said in the media about the approximately 300 farmers who have only recently lost their livelihoods just over three weeks ago.

I photographed what I believe to be the last methi plot planted and successfully harvested at Versova Beach one week ago. See "The Last Methi Plot At Versova Beach" on my blog for pictures and details.

February 24, 2019. Methi famers tending to their plot. Versova clean-up crew in the distance.

The reason for my visit today was that I received a message from a local resident of the Worli village at Versova the previous evening, asking me to come photograph the farmers' struggles.

The following video I shot just after arriving from the Bungalow Rd. entrance. The farmland used to stretch just south of there down towards the mangroves, extending nearly to the creek on northern Juhu Beach.

As during my previous week's visit, I encountered scattered makeshift camps where farmers were squatting due to lack of work and with no other place to go. The BMC's Coastal Road Project, in effect, destroyed scores of livelihoods while rendering some farmers both jobless and homeless, like the men I spoke to (in the below two images) who originated from Uttar Pradesh.

Methi farmers from Uttar Pradesh
Methi farmers from Uttar Pradesh

After chatting with these men, I wandered further south and encountered a larger group of farmers taking shelter. After photographing them, I sat down and showed them on my phone many of the pictures I had taken of the methi farming in the past months. I said my farewell, and departed to the bulldozer I could see a few hundred meters down the beach. I didn't know that I would be returning to this same group of farmers only minutes later.

Methi farmers, a few of whom stayed at the nearby Worli village.

As I approached the bulldozer, I saw that it had an escort of two men carrying sticks. I could only imagine that they were the intended muscle if they encountered any resistance. I played the tourist, and asked them to pose for me, which they did - after tossing down their sticks into the sand. The other man didn't want to be photographed (or thought I only wanted to photograph his coworker) and stood off-camera.

BMC employees patrolling Versova Beach.

I took a few shots and then headed down towards the sea, hoping to spend the last hour before sunset photographing Mumbai residents enjoying Golden Hour. But as I headed north back towards the popular end of the beach, I noticed the bulldozer was heading directly towards the farmers I had just visited. I tracked the progress of the bulldozer and escorts and surmised that there could be trouble. I immediately headed toward the farmers, and saw that one of them was in fact motioning to me to come. I arrived just moments before the bulldozer did, and plopped myself down between the farmers and the bulldozer. The engine was cut. The two escorts then met with the farmer's representative. This was when I got up from the sand and took out my phone to record what was transpiring. See below video.

When the BMC crew left, I had a chat with one of the farmers (below video). The information he gave me I've heard previously from other farmers at Versova. The surprising bit of news to me was that the farming community had been working Versova Beach for decades, for nearly as long as the existence of the Republic of India.

I'll be returning to Versova Beach to document the plight of the methi farmers in the weeks to come. I suspect at some point soon, I'll return to find no farmers, no makeshift camps of the newly unemployed and homeless. I'll only find sand.

All images and video by Craig Boehman. Copyright 2020.

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