Tamil Nadu

Let the river run through 

Around the time water release commenced from Kallanai or the Grand Anicut on Friday evening, Arupathy P. Kalyanam, a veteran farmer leader residing in a village about 120 km from the Chola-era structure, felt relieved. “After four years, I am going to get water for irrigation in my village channel, Pudupazhan Kaveri,” he says, adding that the water course was cleared of silt this time. “I get water only in those years when desilting is done,” said the farmer, who is the general secretary of the Federation of Farmers’ Associations in the Cauvery Delta Districts.

Farmers across the delta region are in a similar mood. They appreciate the Tamil Nadu government for having advanced the date of water discharge from the Mettur dam for irrigation of the delta from June 12 to May 24 this year. According to V. Sathyanarayanan, general secretary, Consortium of Cauvery Delta Farmers, “Ordinarily, the yield of paddy during the cultivation season of kuruvai is higher than that of samba. This time, it will be much higher than the normal level, thanks to the improved photosynthetic efficiency.”

Encouraged by the increase in the coverage of 1.69 lakh acres and the eventual accomplishment of 4.9 lakh acres last year during the kuruvai season, the government has increased the coverage for 2022-23 by about 32,000 acres, putting the coverage at 5.22 lakh acres. As much as 4,91,200 acres will be covered in seven districts and the remaining 30,800 acres in the districts of Cuddalore and Ariyalur.

This year’s development was an out-of-the ordinary event, as it was after a gap of 76 years that the water release commenced in the month of May — that is, the first time since Independence. The opening of the dam on the scheduled date of June 12 became an exception than the norm, especially after the dispute over the sharing of the Cauvery water became more intense between the two principal riparian States, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in recent years.

Since the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal gave its interim order in June 1991, it was only in 10 years, including 2021, that the appointed date of the dam opening could be kept. This year, one of the main reasons that worked in favour of the early opening of the dam was the unexpected bonanza following heavy rainfall in the Cauvery catchments. In a matter of one week (May 15 to 22), the realisation, as measured by the Central Water Commission at its gauging site at Billigundulu, was a little over 10 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft). In fact, even in respect of June (which marks the initial phase of southwest monsoon), only 11 out of 31 years that the State’s realisation exceeded its quota of 9.19 tmc ft, as stipulated by the Supreme Court, for the month. During May, only 2.5 tmc ft is required to be realised at Billigundulu, as this is essentially meant for protection of the natural ecosystem along the Cauvery. But, as on May 23, Tamil Nadu got 19 tmc ft.

When Chief Minister M.K. Stalin opened the dam the next day, the storage was barely four tmc ft short of the capacity of 93.47 tmc ft. The bountiful northeast monsoon (October-December) in 2021 and better realisation of the Cauvery water for most of the ongoing water year (June 2021-May 2022) ensured that Mettur, even at the beginning of May, had a storage of around 72 tmc ft. According to the government’s calculation, 125 tmc ft is required for the expected coverage of 5.22 lakh acres. Of this, 99.74 tmc ft will be met through Mettur and the balance through groundwater. This is why the officials are confident of a comfortable sailing this time not only for the kuruvai season but also for samba.

P. Kalaivanan, former Assistant Director in the Agriculture Department, who has been bringing out an annual publication on the water realisation and farming practices in the delta, says that with the present storage and the flows in the next couple of months, the requirements for kuruvai can be met. As for samba, he does not foresee much difficulty as Karnataka normally lets out a higher quantum of water during October-December than the stipulated amount.

A perusal of the realisation data for the last 30-odd years reveals that even at 50% probability, the expected quantum during October-December is around 71.8 tmc ft against the stipulated 41.35 tmc ft. Besides, a normal rainfall during the northeast monsoon will complement the situation. However, a senior official of the Water Resources Department says water releases will be done in response to the requirements, exercising “enough care” to see to it that water gets utilised optimally.

Notwithstanding the comfortable position, a section of agricultural experts feels that the farmers in the upper reaches will have to plan irrigation of their fields in such a manner that their colleagues in the tail-end of the system, especially some parts of Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts, also gain from the water releases. An agronomist points out that considering groundwater becoming saline in the two districts, the farmers would have to rely only on the Cauvery water. So the agriculturists in the upper reaches should draw more groundwater so that they do not use the river water much.

C. Ramasamy, former Vice-Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, says transplantation should be completed by the middle of July for a better yield. Even if there is scanty realisation of the Cauvery water in the next three-four months, the water supply for the kuruvai crop should not be disturbed, he cautions. Another agricultural expert pitches for the deployment of machinery for transplantation in a big way, facilitated by the Departments of Agriculture and Agricultural Engineering.

As soon as the news about the start of the water release was out voices of concern emerged over the impact of the decision on silt removal from and repairs to the Cauvery irrigation network. AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam and AMMK general secretary T.T.V. Dhinakaran raised questions over the possibility of breaches as a result of contractors being pressured to complete the work in a hurry and the consequent waste of taxpayers’ money. The government was quick to reassure the public that all the work, kick-started on April 23, would be over before May 31, as scheduled. In the coming days, additional machinery would be used on a war footing. The silt removal had been completed, Water Resources Minister Duraimurugan said in a statement. As on Saturday morning, nearly 95% of silt removal was completed, covering about 4,700 km out of 4,964 km.

However, Mr. Kalyanam feels there is enormous potential for improvement in silt removal. Even important channels, in and around towns, have been converted into dump yards. There are many abandoned channels and in view of the bed of the Cauvery being lower than the theoretical level, there has to be maximum head up at the point of regulators for smooth water flow. “This is the situation of A channels, having head sluices in towns,” he says. Responding to his observations, a senior official of the Water Resources Department says there are not many abandoned channels and the problem of the lower river bed level no longer exists, as there is enough replenishment of sand in recent years.

Mr. Sathyanarayanan suggests that repairs to channels and branch canals be carried out based on needs. He echoes the view of many farmers in the region that the Department itself execute the work of silt removal instead of getting it done by contractors.

There are other issues being raised by farmers. K. V. Elankeeran, president of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association, who hails from Kattumannarkoil in Cuddalore district, which is at the tail-end of the system, says the authorities should ensure that there is no shortage of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs. Demanding a package of assistance from the government for the kuruvai season this year, as done in the previous year, he says the government should make sure that there are no problems in paddy procurement, if there is any glut in production, in the light of the experience of Telangana where the Centre had refused to procure paddy beyond a particular level.

Six teams have been constituted to ensure the availability of seeds, according to Agriculture Minister M.R.K. Panneerselvam. The teams have also inspected retail outlets and initiated punitive action against those found violating the laws. As for fertilizers, the Union government allotted to Tamil Nadu 51,800 tonnes of urea, 28,550 tonnes of diammonium phosphate (DAP), 2,300 tonnes of potash and 48,400 tonnes of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) complex, said a government release issued on Saturday after a meeting held by Agricultural Production Commissioner and Secretary C. Samayamoorthy to review the stock position of fertilisers. Of this allocation, companies have so far supplied 48,290 tonnes of urea, 22,350 of DAP, 6,900 tonnes of potash and 38,150 tonnes of the NPK complex. The companies have been advised to provide 25% of the allocation to cooperative societies.

As the preparations are in progress for the launch of farming operations, the government and agricultural experts underscore the need for judicious use of water. In this year’s agriculture budget, the government has announced a special package for encouraging farmers to raise alternative crops during the season. This is a State-wide scheme, aimed at covering 66,000 acres, on an outlay of ₹10 crore. A seasoned agricultural expert, working for a non-governmental organisation, points out that Tamil Nadu farmers are more receptive than others to crop diversification but what comes in their way is the problem they may have to face after production, especially in marketing. If this can be addressed, the crop diversification will be a huge success, he feels. In the ultimate analysis, it appears that under the given circumstances, kuruvai 2022 may not be very challenging but what every player in the farm sector should keep in mind is that there is no room for complacency with regard to the efficient utilisation of resources.

What constitutes the Cauvery delta region?

It is spread over 59 blocks, covering fully four districts— Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Mayiladuthurai, and partially five— Pudukottai, Karur, Tiruchi, Ariyalur and Cuddalore. Thirty-five blocks in the four districts and 24 blocks in the remaining five districts form part of the delta region.

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Printable version | May 29, 2022 1:21:26 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/let-the-river-run-through/article65470072.ece