Irrigation managers and agriculture officials are debating the exact extent on which farmers can take up cultivation of the short-term kuruvai crop this year under adverse conditions.

Going by data for the last 10 years and observations of officials of the Agriculture and Public Works Departments, it appears that one lakh acres can be covered this year.  In a normal year, 3.3 lakh acres are covered.

The present situation is extremely adverse as the Mettur dam, the lifeline of the delta, has a storage of hardly four thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) against the capacity of 93.47 tmc ft.  On the same day last year, the storage was about 41 tmc ft. Besides, the groundwater table in the Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur districts, three of which accounts for 85 per cent of the Kuruvai cultivation in the delta, does not present a bright scenario.

In Karnataka too, the situation is very bleak. Four reservoirs in that State across the Cauvery have a combined storage of around 13 tmc ft against their capacity of 114 tmc ft.

The kuruvai crop is essentially dependent upon discharge of water from Mettur which, in turn, relies on release from Karnataka. The normal pattern is to commence nursery in May-June and complete harvest the latest by early October. The idea is to make use of the Cauvery river water for the cultivation as the period coincides with the southwest monsoon, during which the catchment areas in Karnataka and Kerala usually experience heavy rainfall.  

If Karnataka does not release Tamil Nadu’s share of water, as prescribed by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the crop will be in for trouble.  

This was what witnessed in at least four years since 2002. During 2002-2003, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, the shortfall in realisation of the water [as per the Tribunal’s interim order] during southwest monsoon (June-September) varied from about 97 tmc ft to 107 tmc ft to 35 tmc ft. In 2012-2013, even going by a distress-sharing formula, Tamil Nadu should have received, during the corresponding period, 54.5 tmc ft more than what it realised – around 28 tmc ft. In all these four years, the coverage in Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur was over one lakh acres. Last year, due to a combination of steps including 12-hour power supply in the region, the coverage was 1.3 lakh acres. This is why the authorities are hopeful of achieving one lakh acres even this year too. As of now, around 6,920 acres have been covered in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam.

This time, the coverage of the crop is expected to be accomplished by using filter points, tube wells and open wells.

Indicating the Agriculture department’s plans for the present year, an official explains that different strategies such as mat nursery and community nursery will be adopted. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a cultivation method requiring less nursery area,  water and labour apart from fewer seeds, is being encouraged in a big way. Seeds of short-term paddy varieties are being distributed through agricultural extension centres and private dealers.  The State has a sufficient stock of certified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

Last week, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa chaired a meeting to take stock of the situation. Asked about the outcome, the official replies that there will soon be an announcement.  

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