For the fourth consecutive year, farmers' hope of going for ‘kar' paddy cultivation has almost been dashed. The storage level at Papanasam dam, one of the three major reservoirs of the district that provides succour to farmers tilling over 86,000 acres of land in Tirunelveli and neighbouring Tuticorin district, has gone down to a dismal 22 feet. And there is no sign of summer rains in the catchment areas.

Against the total capacity of 143 feet, the Papanasam dam had only 22.20 feet water on Sunday (including the silt deposited over the years for about 15 feet and more). The inflow stands merely at 64.56 cusecs and just 31 cusecs is being discharged from the reservoir just to wet the hundreds of infiltration wells sunk in the Tamiraparani by the local bodies for supplying drinking water to several lakhs of people.

This situation may deteriorate further as the dry spell, which has come to stay in the catchment areas of all 11 big and small reservoirs in the district since 2009, continues this year too.

Rain over the years

Rainfall in the Papanasam dam (in mm) during the first quarter of 2009: January 6.72; February nil; March 23.30; and April 60.43

In 2010: January 37.40; February 0.58; March 5.70; and April 36.80.

In 2011: January 26.03; February 45.20; March 39.95; and April 32.

In 2012: January 19.24; February 13.12; March 8.58; and April 19.34; and May 5.47.

Against this piquant situation, farmers going for ‘kar' paddy cultivation will find the going difficult as water cannot be released in the channels for irrigation, officials here say.

“Though Manimuthar dam, another major reservoir of the district, has 59.81 feet against its permissible level of 118 feet, we have to maintain a decent quantity of water to meet drinking water requirements. So, releasing water from this dam for irrigation will also trigger more serious issues across the southern districts,” said a senior Public Works Department (PWD) official.

Another worrisome fact is that the district has not received sufficient rainfall in the northeast monsoon also since 2008, which is another major reason for the depletion of storage level at dams.

The farmers' only prayer now to the government is that the official machinery should immediately start the work on desilting all 11 dams in the district as storage level in all the reservoirs are very small. “No desilting has been carried out so far in all the 11 reservoirs, which are pillars withstanding the district's farming operations, particularly paddy production. If the silt deposited over the years is removed, it will substantially increase the actual capacity of dams and ultimately food grain production,” said Kurichi Ganesan, a progressive farmer of Palayam Channel region.