Fast urbanisation, unmindful quarrying, real estate boom, fragmentation of land and agriculture becoming highly unreliable are some of the major reasons cited that have led to the reduction in area under cultivation in Madurai district.
According to statistics available with the district administration, the net area cultivated in the district which was 1.48 lakh hectares in 2000-01 had come down to 1.36 lakh hectares in 2010-11. However, the number of farm land holders increased from 3.12 lakh in 2001 to 3.22 lakh in 2013.
“This is probably because of the fragmentation of farm land as they are divided among the legal heirs,” Joint Director (Agriculture), A. Jeyasingh Gnanadurai said.
Unabated quarrying of granite in the two taluks of Melur and Madurai North alone has reduced the extent of land under cultivation by 325 hectares in the last few years.
Collector Anshul Mishra, said that granite quarry operators had destroyed ayacuts, either fully or partially, by encroaching upon irrigation tanks, water bodies and supply channels in Melur and Madurai North Taluks. “These were the most fertile portions of agricultural land in the district irrigated by Periyar water,” he added.
However, V. Somasundaram, a farmer, who is also the president of Water Resources Protection and Anti-Corruption Movement, alleged that at least 24,000 acres of farm land were damaged or could not be cultivated because of damaged irrigation tanks, supply channels or dumping of granite waste on the agricultural land.
Madurai saw a fast urbanisation that led to real estate boom. “Several unauthorised lay outs have come up on agricultural land. The survey of such lay-outs is underway,” the Collector said. Some of the stretches that are witnessing farm lands being converted into residential colonies are on the Madurai-Alagarkoil Road, Madurai-Natham Road and Madurai-Melur Road.
The Ring Road connecting Mattuthavani with Kappalur and the four-laning of Madurai-Tiruchi, Madurai-Dindigul and Madurai-Virudhunagar too have added to loss of farm land. S. Rethinavelu, senior president of Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said that new residential areas have come up in seven to 10 km stretches in various roads. The expansion of the boundaries of Madurai Corporation three-fold in 2011 is expected to act as a catalyst for further urbanisation.
Lack of sustainability in agriculture, mostly because of monsoon failures, has driven people to give up farming, according to the Collector. While the increasing input cost and crop failures forced farmers to leave agriculture, low wages in farming activity has discouraged farmhands to continue with their profession.