At the turn of the century, Gorakhpur city and its surroundings had over 200 water bodies, of which only about 10% remain active now. Withe changing times the open spaces have been built over, rainfall has become more erratic, all resulting in serious water logging situations. Gorakhpur’s peri-urban area, which are the flood plains of the rivers Rapti & Rohini, can act as a sponge for the city’s trapped water, but unfortunately are fast vanishing. Here, the open agricultural land too is losing out to real estate.
The city of Gorakhpur seems to be caught between the proverbial- devil and the deep blue sea. It chokes on it’s trapped rain water and the overflow rim where this water could be absorbed, is being gobbled up at an alarming rate.
In truth, there is an important two-way dependency between the people of these “twin cities”. The farmers of the peri urban areas are food suppliers to the city dwellers while the city in turn is the market for goods and employer of services & labour from the peri urban areas. The bedrock of this economic link was agriculture, which itself is in a shambles. With increasing input costs and weak and sometimes broken market access, the farmers of the Peri Urban were slowly giving up and selling their lands to builders, which is a sure recipe for a long term disaster.
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) stepped into this quagmire and began unpacking the complexity. It started working with farmers, strengthening their systems. Creating systems of flood resistant agriculture & helping create women farmer cooperatives, all such activities strengthened social dynamics. Today women have land in their own names.
Chanda of Mohripur Village, has not only bought 3 Bhigas of land and a tractor, but also expanded her business of growing vegetables, to start a tent hire house with a “DJ set up”! She says when she came as a bride to this village 10 years ago, there wasn’t enough to eat.
Of course, it is early days yet for this experiment to yield substantiated spinoffs. But this effort brings home the critical dependency connection between the peri urban and the urban, for setting up of the Climate Resiliency Regime. For a robust resiliency, the peri urban has to be conserved, the open spaces protected by way of economically viable and profitable agriculture. The moral of the story, which is emerging slowly, is to celebrate the peri urban and policy fortify it, before it vanishes under concrete heaps and eventually drowns under the swirling waters.
Watch the film ‘Khet Chodab Naahi: Our Land, Our Life’, directed by Krishnendu Bose, delve deep into the a city’s fringes, that are neither urban nor rural, and find out how both ‘the twin cities’ can, not only co-exist but also benefit mutually. This will happen when for the people, ownership of land will not be an apology but a proud possession.