Watermelon growers in Konkan blame Goa-Mumbai highway expansion for dip in their sales

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Sindhudurg: Farmers growing watermelons at a village in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district have claimed the sales of their produce have dipped following the expansion of the Goa-Mumbai National Highway in the last two years.

A farmer from Bibavane village here in the Konkan region said he now earns just about Rs 1,500 per day from the sale of watermelons along the highway compared to Rs 5,000 per day earlier.

A legislator from the area also said he has received such complaints from farmers and that he was looking into the matter.

Bibavane village is located five kilometres away from Kudal town in Sindhudurg on the national highway.

“The construction of the highway is a bane for us. From the time wider roads with divider in between have been constructed, the watermelon business has dipped,” said farmer Krishnakant Gopal Pundurkar, who has been in the trade for over a decade now.

Pundurkar is among the several farmers who have been making their living through the sale of watermelons by setting up make-shift stalls on this stretch of the Goa-Mumbai highway.

The business flourished for three decades before the highway expansion began, he said.

Pundurkar recalled how local resident Arun Rege had set up the first stall along with the highway at Bibavane. The highway was narrower then and had trees on both sides.

People travelling to Goa or Mumbai used to halt for some time to enjoy the nature and buy watermelons. “The number of stalls then increased. There are now at least 30 stalls in this area,” he said.

Then came the expansion of the national highway in 2021-22. Trees were felled and a smoother highway with four lanes and a divider was constructed.

“People who used to halt under the shade of trees now zoom past the smooth national highway,” said Pundurkar. He claimed that earlier he used to earn around Rs 5,000 per day. “The income has now dipped to mere Rs 1,500,” he said.

The trade of watermelons along the national highway is a symbol of community farming.

“Farmers used to come together and conduct auction at a field where watermelons were grown. The fruits were later sold at the road-side stalls,” said Mukesh Vengurlekar, who has his own watermelon farm at Bibavane.

He said watermelons are grown on 20 hectare land in Bibavane itself.

“Watermelons are available from December and the season continues till June,” he said.

But, the business has been severely hampered as the demand for watermelons has decreased after the expansion of the highway, he said.

Local journalist Vivek Tamhankar claimed the highway expansion has had an economic impact on the villages located nearby.

“The impact on the sale of watermelons is just one example,” he said.

The village markets have gone under the long flyovers constructed on the highway, he said.

“Several markets were dependent on customers who used to travel on the highway. They have lost their customers, who now zoom past on the flyover, unaware about the markets selling products grown in this belt,” he said.

Kudal MLA Vaibhav Naik said he has received several complaints from farmers in Bibavane about the dip in watermelon sales due to the expansion of the highway.

“I am looking into the matter. The ideal option for them is to put up stalls near traffic circles so that vehicles can stop there,” he added.

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