Tamil Nadu

Efforts of local youth raise the hope of a bumper crop in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta

Employing alternatives: Mechanised sowing, which helps tackle the problem of labour shortage, will be taken up in 10,030 hectares in the composite Thanjavur region.   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy

Peravurani — the name itself — means ‘big pond’. But not long ago, the key waterbody of this tier-III town, situated about 75 km south of Thanjavur, presented a picture of neglect and misuse. Today, it is showing signs of a revival, thanks to an initiative by a group of local youth.

“This summer, when we were in the midst of a water crisis, my friends and I decided to focus our attention on the plight of our tank, which we call periya eri (big tank). Though the tank serves three main villages, no one came forward to renovate it. It was then that we decided to take it upon ourselves to inject a fresh lease of life into our eri,” says V. Karthikeyan, a postgraduate in management.

In less than three months, he and many other youth of the area have helped deepen the tank, raise the height of the bund by 4-5 metres, form a bund on the northern side of the tank and widen the bund. Though the district administration and the Public Works Department (PWD) gave them the go-ahead without much hassle, the youth had to face scepticism from sections of elders in Peravurani and nearby areas. “While some made fun of us, others tried to discourage us, saying we will not be able to go on with our initiative beyond a week, as only the PWD was best equipped to do the work,” says Nimal Raghavan, a techie by profession and a resident of the area.

But these doubting Thomases relented when they witnessed the zeal with which the youth were carrying out their work. “We felt excited and privileged when the people of the Pongadu and Pazhaya Peravurani villages gave us their contributions – ₹1.8 lakh and ₹1.5 lakh, respectively,” Mr. Raghavan adds.

The youth decided to form an association, keeping in mind the issues facing farmers in the tail end of irrigation systems. Thus the Kadamadai Area Integrated Farmers’ Association came into being. As of now, the association is focussing on villages in the Peravurani and Pattukottai taluks of Thanjavur district and the Alangudi and Aranthangi taluks of Pudukottai. Both Mr. Karthikeyan and Mr. Raghavan acknowledge that work on the Peravurani tank is far from over, as around 150 acres of the waterbody have been encroached upon. With the help of the district administration, they hope to restore the tank to its original size.

The story of Peravurani, which exemplifies the State’s age-old practice of kudimaramathu (participatory irrigation management), is not a one-off account. There are similar stories not only from other parts of the composite Thanjavur region, but also from the rest of the delta and the nearby district of Perambalur. Appreciating the work of the Peravurani youth, Palaniappan, a seasoned farmer in Thanjavur, says this year, many youth in other areas have also volunteered to take up similar projects. This apart, the authorities are doing their bit..Projects under the government-funded kudimaramathu scheme and a special programme for the removal of silt, coupled with a component of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), are being executed through the PWD and the Rural Development & Panchayat Raj (RD&PR) Department. Under kudimaramathu, people’s participation is ensured, at the least through monetary contribution from beneficiaries to the extent of 10% of the cost of each project.

Allocation of funds

The PWD has been allocated nearly ₹500 crore for carrying out 1,828 projects under kudimaramathu, and ₹61 crore for silt removal. In the composite Thanjavur region, 126 out of 193 projects proposed under kudimaramathu have been completed, and as for silt removal, stretches of canals to the extent of 1,187 km have been covered, against a proposed coverage of 1,221 km.

Efforts of local youth raise the hope of a bumper crop in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta

The RD&PR Department is planning to deepen 5,000 minor irrigation (MI) tanks coming under the control of Panchayat Unions and 25,000 ponds and smaller waterbodies (Oorani) — meant for storing drinking water — falling under the purview of village panchayats. Of these, 4,914 ponds and drinking waterbodies and three MI tanks fall under the composite Thanjavur region. A total of ₹1,250 crore has been set apart, which includes ₹750 crore from the MGNREGS. Specific targets have been fixed for projects. If and when the ongoing works are completed, the water table is bound to improve. Though these works are meant to ease problems in accessing water, not all agriculturists are happy with the timing and manner of their execution. K. Loghanathan, of Sitheri in Tiruvarur district, says the implementation should have begun in February, and all irrigation canals should have been made ready by mid-June, when water is released from the Mettur dam. While PWD officials claim the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha election came in the way of issuing necessary orders for the launch of the works this year, Mr. Palaniappan argues: “Even in previous years, when there were no polls, the situation was no different.”

Contractors have not been fully eliminated from the kudimaramathu works. K. Balu, of Manali near Mannargudi, alleges that even field officials admit that for certain works, they need to get the permission of local functionaries of the ruling party.

V. Dorai, a farmer from Perunkadampanur village, who heads a body of owner-farmers, has a different tale to tell. In the past, when contractors were involved in such projects, farmers did not benefit much as the coverage of targeted areas and the quality of work left much to be desired. “But this time, the authorities are insisting that participating associations of farmers should comprise only those who have land titles in their respective villages, and that they should include 51% of the owners. This stipulation has made a qualitative difference,” he says, adding that villagers cutting across caste and political affiliations are now working far better than on previous occasions, leaving little scope for external interference.

A visit to the composite Thanjavur region reveals that several irrigation channels have been desilted, indicating that they can carry water much better now.

Monsoon factor

Besides, the region, in general, wears the look of a land filled with water and greenery. With the Cauvery in spate and the Mettur dam full, the farmers of the region are hopeful of a normal northeast monsoon (October-December) leading to a smooth paddy harvest during the samba cultivation season.

Needless to say, there are pockets in Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts that have not yet received water or have just started getting it, though the release of water from the Grand Anicut commenced on August 17.

Notwithstanding apparent improvements in the irrigation infrastructure of the composite region, chronic problems like inadequate remunerative price and labour shortage, combined with the “adverse impact” of MGNREGS and the worsening pollution of land and waterbodies, continue to haunt the farmers, many of whom are yet to overcome the adverse impact of Cyclone Gaja, which struck last year.

Efforts of local youth raise the hope of a bumper crop in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta

It is against this backdrop that recent initiatives of the Central government – providing ₹6,000 annually to farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi and an insurance cover to small and marginal farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana – are being watched closely by agriculturists. S. Jeevanandam, of Kandiyur near Kuthalam, says that if the State and Central governments ensure the “right remunerative price” for farm produce, there is no need for such interventions.

Conscious of the delay in the arrival of the State’s share of Cauvery water, the Agriculture Department has been encouraging farmers to go for ‘direct sowing’, a practice that has become a constant feature in dry parts of Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts. For the ongoing samba cultivation season, direct sowing, as of now, accounts for 1.2 lakh hectares in the Cauvery delta [which includes parts of Tiruchi, Pudukottai, Karur, Ariyalur and Cuddalore, apart from the composite Thanjavur region] out of a total area of 1.34 lakh hectares. “It helps you cut down labour cost as there is no need for transplantation, and [it also] reduces the cultivation period by at least 10 days,” Mr. Palaniappan says.

However, rampant growth of weeds is likely to pose a major problem to the farmers, says T. Arumugam, ofThanjavur district, adding that this year, no subsidy is being given for the application of weedicide. An Agriculture Department official says under the National Food Security Mission, a subsidy of ₹500 per hectare will be provided shortly, and of a total of 10,000 hectares, the composite Thanjavur region will account for 6,200 hectares. As regards machine planting — one of the ways to overcome labour shortage — the official says it will be taken up in 10,030 hectares in the composite region.

Though water availability may not be an issue in the coming months, seasoned farmers are concerned over the scenario of a falling groundwater table. They want officials to promote conservation and efficient use of water in a big way. “Sprinkler suits us better than drip irrigation,” says S. Ranganathan of Mannargudi. His colleagues, R. Sathiyamurthy of Athangudi village and V. Sathyanarayanan of Seruvamani, both from Tiruvarur district, suggest State power utility Tangedco should insist that rainwater harvesting structures be put up at the time of providing power connections to farm pumpsets.

Agreeing with them on the need for conserving water, P.N. Vedanarayanan, Collector of the undivided Thanjavur district during 1962-66, now an adviser to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University for the pulses development programme, says under the given circumstances, delta farmers should plan their activities realistically. Barring those having filter points, it is advisable for others to go for only one paddy crop – that is during the samba season. Instead of pinning their hopes on raising paddy crop during the uncertain kuruvai season, they can go for two crops of pulses, which will not only be profitable but also improve the quality of soil. In addition, they will be helping the country reduce imports of pulses and dependence on water, he adds.

Thus the debate on addressing the chronic problems facing the farm sector continues. The Karthikeyans and Raghavans of the region are equipping themselves to take farming further in an efficient and productive way, though they will face far greater challenges than those encountered by their elders.

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