Vehicular traffic on Tiruchi-Madurai highway was thrown out of gear for more than three hours on Sunday as hundreds of farmers staged a road blockade on the four-lane highway in Melur demanding release of water from Vaigai dam for saving around 30 acres of standing paddy crops.

Farmers of single crop area insisted on one last wetting for a minimum of four days to save the crop and manage to get at least 50 per cent yield to compensate the money invested on farming.

However, the officials said they could consider release for only two days owing to poor storage in the Vaigai dam.

Farmers did not buy the official’s contention that the storage in Vaigai dam had to be maintained at the present level (1428 mcft) to meet the drinking water requirements of Madurai city till the next summer.

“The officials have taken into consideration only the Periyar credit of 675 mcft in the Vaigai dam and not the Vaigai credit (753 mcft) in the dam and the 2,033 mcft in the Periyar dam. As has been the practice over years, Vaigai credit should be released for irrigating the single crop area and the water from Periyar dam could replenish the Vaigai credit and also take care of the drinking water needs,” said R. Arulprakasam, member of the Periyar Irrigation System Planning Committee.

M. Murugan, president of the Single Crop Area Farmer’s Association, complained that the Periyar water was being diverted to irrigate the extension areas in Cumbum Valley through the PTR Canal and Thanthai Periyar Canal.

“The single crop area which is a regular area should get priority in water release over the extension area. The present crisis is only because of mismanagement by the Public Works Department. Officials have given into political pressure,” he said.

Farmers of Melur will have to forgo their livelihood for the second consecutive year if they do not get a wetting for four days.

“While the crop required water for 120 days, so far water has been released only for 58 days. Even by implementing turn system, wetting for a minimum of 80 days is necessary for a successful harvest,” Mr. Murugan said.

The road blockade that started at around 12.20 p.m. came to an end at around 4 p.m. when the police arrested the protestors.

Superintendent of Police V. Balakrishnan, Revenue Divisional Officer (Madurai) N. Arumuga Nainar, and PWD Superintending Engineer C. Rajesh were among those who held talks with the ryots.

More In: Madurai