Till a few years back, landless peasants from neighbouring Chhattisgarh frequently travelled to Bargarh district during this part of the year to cultivate vegetables on dry river bed of Jeera.
Their number, though, has drastically come down due to rampant illegal sand mining from the river bed.
Barely a decade back, one could find watermelon, cucumber, bottle guard, pumpkins and cowpeas grown on vast stretches of the dry river bed of Jeera. These migrating peasants used to sell the vegetables in Bargarh market and return to their villages before monsoon arrived.
With sand mining taking toll on the river bed, the number of such peasants has decreased. Such is the situation that this year, only one peasant from Chhattisgarh has come to Bargarh to cultivate vegetables.
Dukha Patel (26) from Chhattisgarh has taken up cultivation of bottle guard near Sainyan village. He alleged that he is often threatened by sand mafia of dire consequences if he did not give up cultivation on the river bed.
Patel, who hails from Chicholi village of Baloda district in Chhattisgarh, said he had been coming to Bargarh since his childhood with his father and mother. While his father has to stay back now due to old age, his mother continues to join him. Apart from his mother Agri Bai, his uncles have this year joined him in cultivating the vegetable in 70 decimals of the river bed land.
Dukha said after meeting all their expenses including food and clothing, he earns about 50,000 during this period every year. He has built makeshift huts along the river bed.
Earlier, Dukha was growing vegetables on the river bed at Bardol in the outskirts of Bargarh town, along with 22 peasant families from across the border. But they were shooed away from the place by sand mafia.
While the other peasants decided not to return this year, Dukha managed to find a new location for growing his crops near Sainyan village.