“No Minister or MLA came ”

: Early in the afternoon on Tuesdady, Uzhavan Bharati takes the mike and sings one of his thousands songs calling for a revolution of farmers, even as portraits of 10 farmers from the Cauvery delta who committed suicide this year were displayed on the background.

After the song, he looks drained and could not even speak. Hundreds of farmers were on a fast in the city for the release of Cauvery river water, the lifeline of the delta that takes care of the state’s food basket.

K. Selvaraj, a farmer who owns 30 acres in Mayiladuthurai in Nagapattinam district, looked distraught like the rest of the crowd. “The returns will not even be half this year,” he says. For an investment of Rs 5 lakh, the return is a double. “This year, it won’t be even Rs 2.5 lakh,” he says.

V. Murugavel, a farmer from Nattaru in Thanjavur district, was also getting the double on investment when the Cauvery flows through. He had no pumpset which compounded the problem. “We have borrowed money from private lenders at an interest of up to five per cent,” he says.

The delta farmers were of the opinion that the government’s decision to provide power for more hours than the usual three hours came a bit too late right at the end of last November. “By then, the paddy crop had started wilting,” says a Thanjavur farmer.

Among the resolutions passed pertained to the mobilisation of people to retrieve the traditional rights of the State in Cauvery river water and a call to all political parties to support the State government’s efforts

Arupathi Kalyanam, general secretary, Federation of Delta Farmers Associations, said: “It is not just a farmers’ issue. Apart from being the livelihood of 2.5 crore farmers in the delta, the river is a drinking water source for five crore people. Even Chennai’s drinking water needs is comfortable because of the Cauvery water from Veeranam scheme.” .

Farmers to the west of Grand Anicut have their own set of problems. “About two lakh acres of paddy, banana and betel are waiting for harvest but there is no water.

The pumping for drinking water for several schemes, including Ramanathapuram integrated drinking water scheme, is depleting ground water,” said Puliyur Nagarajan of the 17-canal association based in Srirangam constituency represented by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

“We have never fasted or protested in Chennai. This is the first time as far as we know,” says Kavundampatti Subramani, another farmer. “It is unfortunate that not even a single Minister or Member of the Legislative Assembly came to hear us at the fast,” he rued.

He blamed the political class for its failure to stand up to the cause of the delta farmers who keep on fillng the most of the state’s food basket year after year.