“Such a situation has never arisen in the delta and I am really scared”

It is an eminently forgettable Pongal for the lakhs of farmers and agricultural labourers of not only the delta districts but also those dependent on the Cauvery including Tiruchi and Karur.

They have been oscillating between hope and despair since June. While at least 70 per cent of the short-term Kuruvai area could not be cultivated, for more than 50 per cent of the farmers the long-term Samba season has also proved a total failure causing huge loss due to the Cauvery imbroglio.

It is a “double whammy situation” with both southwest and northeast monsoons failing. This has seriously impacted the rainfed crops also.

Tiruchi District Collector Jayashree Muralidharan minced no words in her presentation to the high-level committee headed by Finance Minister O. Panneerselvam on Saturday that the situation which was already bad in the district would get worse if the current conditions were to continue for a few more days.

“Such a situation has never arisen in the delta and I am really scared this year,” laments Mannargudi S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association (CDFA).

Quoting Nageswaran, former Chief Engineer, PWD, he says “a flood can be handled but not a drought. Even 1987 was a very bad year. But then it was only direct sown crops and we could manage to a certain extent with the little available water. This year, it has been a combination of the transplanted and the direct sown crops. Hence, the water demand is far higher,” he explains.

“Now the Pongal depends upon how the State Government is going to help those who have suffered losses,” he adds.

A 60-year-old farmer in Manikandam block, the tail end of Tiruchi district, said this year looks a repeat of 2002 when several cultivated fields had been literally left high and dry. Hundreds of acres have also been left fallow.

Aarupathy P. Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of Farmers’ Associations of Delta Districts, observes with philosophical resignation that even at the very beginning of the season farmers have felt it was 70 per cent risky to go in for the samba. Hence, some of them have not opted for any crop at all.

“They have been proved right while those who have ventured to spend whatever little they had have burnt their fingers.”

Cauvery V. Dhanapalan, general secretary of the Cauvery Protection Committee, demands not only adequate compensation but also writing off all the crop loans.

Official sources, who request anonymity, are confident that 50 per cent of the area in the upper and middle reach in the delta, would definitely be saved.” It is the tail-end fields, especially in Nagapattinam district, that would suffer the most.”

A major difference between the earlier drought years and the current one is that more than 1.75 lakh non-loanee farmers have insured their crops, points out Mr. Ranganathan. “This is thanks to the drive launched by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.”

Loanee farmers are invariably covered under the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme.

This will be able to save them to a certain extent as the Chief Minister has already promised Rs. 5,000 also from the disaster relief fund.

Official sources express apprehensions over the method to be adopted by the insurance company saying “the compensation hinges on whether it is assessed at the firka level or the village level.”

Another important development this year is the impact of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme under which 100 days of employment is guaranteed to landless agricultural workers.

C. Masilamani, Tiruchi district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangham, wants the daily wage of Rs. 132 ensured to them. Besides, each family of these labourers should be given a compensation of at least Rs. 10,000 as it is their livelihood which is seriously impacted, he feels.

Something positive

But Mahadhanapuram V. Rajaram, working president of the CDFA, and S. Ramanathan, veteran farmer of Kapisthalam, see something positive in the current developments. “It is high time we changed our farming pattern as we should realise that the Cauvery has ceased to be what it was before 1970s,” they say.