But for the severe drought, the Sirumalai hills would have made a delightful sight to the villagers as falls bring ample water

With the help of a walking stick, C. Palchamy limps his way around. But this farmer blessed as a water diviner is popular in villages around Kachchakatti in Vadipatti taluk. He goes around locating the right spot for sinking borewells and farmers in Poochampatti, Ramayanpatti and Ellaiyur willingly pay him Rs.1,000 for getting ample water.

But Palchamy’s divining powers failed him recently when his cousin, L. Bharathidasan, sought help to save his coconut grove. “Unfortunately, we could not find water even after sinking borewell for 640 feet,” says Mr. Bharathidasan.

Even after spending Rs.45,000 on the borewell, he does not find fault with the diviner. “When nature has failed, what can he do,” he says.

No trace of moisture

Like the other villages around, Kachchakatti is rain-fed. Rainwater from the Sirumalai hills serves these villages. But, the monsoon failure has put the farmers in a spot. The huge oorani has gone dry. The Pambaattru Odai that brings rainwater from the Sirumalai hills (near the famous Kutladampatti falls) has no trace of any moisture.

“Water level in the wells of our region has never gone so deep this time of the year,” laments another farmer, P. Selvakumar. The dry situation reminds him of the 2001 drought that saw around 300 coconut palms dying.

“In January last year, the wells had water at 10 to 15 feet below the ground. But now, it has gone below 50 feet. We face such situations only in the peak of summer,” says Mr. Selvakumar. Like many other coconut and mango farmers of the region, Mr. Selvakumar too has his fingers crossed that his coconut palms will survive the summer. The water table has gone so deep that it would be adventurous for any visitor to peek into the well in the farm of Mr. Bharathidasan.

This is despite the channel running close to his farm. A check dam across the odai has been constructed close to his farm.

“The check dams had done wonders in the past. Even with a moderate rainfall, the water table in our wells will rise quickly as water gets stagnated because of the check dam,” he says.

That most of the farms, except those with permanent crops such as palm, teak and mango, were left barren speaks for the drought conditions here for the past few months.

But for the severe drought, the Sirumalai hills would have made a delightful sight to the villagers with at least 15 branches of silver falls that bring ample water to the villages around.

“During nights we could hear the thunder of the waterfalls,” Mr. Bharathidasan recalls invoking the days of abundant water. Now, vast swathes of the greenery on the hills have turned dry.

December and January is the season for growing onions – both the small ones and the bellary onions, in these villages. But the farmers had rightly given up the idea of growing onion this year because of monsoon failure.

“This would have been the busiest season for us. Many trucks would have been plying through our villages for transporting onions.

There would have been heavy competition among us to find space in the trucks to load our produce. Almost all the villagers would be on the field plucking, packing and carrying the onions. But now, the farms are abandoned,” complains another farmer, C. Chellamani.

The luckier farm hands could make their both ends meet through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Others shifted their jobs to crusher units operating in the vicinity, says Mr. Bharathidasan.

The scene at neighbouring Kutladampatti is no different. A farm hand-cum-watchman, Ramu, is busy irrigating his coconut farm. He does not show any interest in talking to anyone as he is conscious of how precious the short duration of power supply is for him to operate the pumps.

With depleted wells and limited power supply, he could hardly irrigate some 15 palms a day. Ask him what he would do in the summer, “I don’t know,” is the prompt reply. The Thadaga Nachiamman tank on the foothills of Sirumalai, near the parched Kutladampatti falls, is also bone dry.

The tank provides drinking water to some 50 families that are involved in tending mango farms. With the tank turning dry the people are now forced to depend on one of the wells with motor pumps. For that, they have to walk at least one km. every day.

One woman, Asalaiammal, was walking under a merciless son carrying a pot and a plastic tub full of clothes meant for washing. “Only during elections, leaders come to our place and seek votes promising to provide us drinking water. But no one has turned up since then,” she says bitterly.

The mango trees are no longer irrigated. But saplings are kept alive with water from earthen pots bobbing on the heads of the village women.

“Relief only if crop is lost”

Farmers should do all they can to ensure the survival of their crop in drought conditions, an agricultural department official advised farmers demanding compensation for crop loss.

“All that the Government can do is to provide compensation to farmers after the crop is lost, under the established norms,” he said.

He urged farmers to maintain minimum moisture around the roots of the coconut palms and mango saplings.

He suggested that earthen pots, with small pores at the bottom, be kept close to the trunks so that continuous dripping would prevent drying up of the root.

Similarly, coconut fibre could be spread around the trunk and water sprayed on it to keep it damp.

When contacted, the Collector, Anshul Mishra, said the district administration was according priority to drinking water.

The administration had drawn up a plan to ensure that no hamlet faced water shortage, he said.

“We are ready to provide additional borewells in the villages and try to deepen the existing ones, if necessary,” he pointed out.

Similarly, the frequency of water supply in some places could be reduced in such a way that the existing water source could last longer, he said.

The Collector said that the Kutladampatti water crisis had not come to his notice.

He would ask officials to study the issue and find a suitable solution to the water problem in the village at the earliest.

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