Acute water scarcity, crops withering

CHENNAI July 26. Reports of withering crops and growing drinking water scarcity are pouring in from districts. At least 14 of them are in the grip of a `drought-like situation'. Though Tamil Nadu does not benefit much from the southwest monsoon, the rain during this season ought to have helped catchment areas and fed tanks and reservoirs.

Officials knew what was in store, because the Mettur dam became almost bone dry even before the advent of summer. Water is normally released from the dam on June 12 for kuruvai cultivation in the Cauvery delta region. This has not been done, nor is there any hope of water release until the monsoon revives in neighbouring Karnataka.

Farmers in the delta districts have not only lost the kuruvai crop, but a big question mark hangs over the prospects for the samba season. Unless the monsoon revives early to offset the current shortfall, the farmers and the State will be in serious trouble, district authorities caution.

Sensing the magnitude of the problem, the Government has already launched schemes to provide work and wages to agricultural labourers.

Apart from the actual delta of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts, adjoining parts of Tiruchi, Perambalur and Cuddalore districts have been badly hit by the evasive monsoon and poor storage in dams and tanks. Even drinking water has become a problem in these areas.

Water supply in Tiruchi became so acute that the administration secured an urgent release of one tmcft from the Mettur reservoir for recharging the Cauvery.

Officials say the storage in various reservoirs is less than 25 per cent of the total capacity. In the absence of farming operations, agricultural workers have begun migrating. ``Though meteorologists forecast a normal monsoon and there may still be hope, there has been a deficit of more than 50 per cent in the season's rainfall in Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, the southern districts of Dindigul, Theni, Madurai, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli, Ramanathapuram and even Nagercoil. The western region has also been affected, from Erode and Namakkal to Salem, Coimbatore and Udhagamandalam'', explains a revenue official.

Unprecedented in Dindigul

Dindigul seems to be reeling under an unprecedented drought, which has hit both agriculture and drinking water supply. Cultivation has been reduced to half the normal area and farm labourers have started selling their cattle to slaughter houses in Kerala.

The water level in both the Periyar and Vaigai dams is causing concern to the administration. In the Periyar reservoir, it was 112 feet compared to 123 feet at this time last year (maximum level 136 feet), while in Vaigai, it has dipped to just 24 feet against a healthy 61.70 feet last July (full level 71 feet).

Almost all tanks in Madurai district are dry, leading to fast depletion of ground water too. But Virudhunagar and Sivaganga may be slightly better off, though officials there are worried about the sustaining high temperature of about 40 degree Celsius.

Tirunelveli, which boasts of more dams than what other districts have, is also moving towards a drinking water scarcity-situation. The southwest monsoon normally fills the dams. Sankarankoil has been in the news for drinking water shortage— sometimes the supply is made once in 20 days, according to residents.

But the irony is in Nagercoil, which has never witnessed such a dry spell or water shortage.

The district administration resorted to a `turn system' to sustain the paddy crop on about 11,000 hectares.

For the first time, people have to wait anxiously for water supply, infrequent and unpredictable.

For a plantation belt, which already suffered in recent years, this year was the most frustrating to all sections. The western belt seems to be no better off. Even Udhagamandalam and Coimbatore want to be declared `drought hit' districts now. Against a normal, annual rainfall of 714 mm, Coimbatore recorded only 454 mm in 2000 and 598 mm last year.

This year, against the normal 258 mm up to July, only 56 mm has been received till now, officials say. Neighbouring Salem and Namakkal will be in serious trouble if the monsoon plays truant for another fortnight.

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