Double-crop area farmers told to tap groundwater

MADURAI, JUNE 1 . Irrigation engineers and officials of the Agriculture department have expressed concern over their inability to release water on June 1, the scheduled date, for the first crop of the double-crop area of 45,041 acres in Madurai and Dindigul districts.

Statistics reveal that water was released on June 1 for only three times, and between June 10 and 28 for nine other times in the last 25 years, since 1979. (Water for 14,707 acres in the Cumbum valley could be released on June 1, if the storage in the Periyar dam touched 1200 mcft. Similarly, water could be released for the double-crop area on the same day, if the combined storage in the Periyar and Vaigai dams was 4,000 mcft).

Though the Cumbum valley has been getting water almost as per schedule, farmers in the double-crop area have learnt to live with "uncertainty" over the date of water release for the first crop. While most of them leave the land uncultivated, a few start farm operations on time, and many others much later. Poor southwest monsoon and the meagre flow into the dams leave most of the farmers in the lurch. Except for a lucky few, many end up with crop loss. "The lack of sufficient residual storage in the dams after the harvest of the second crop (in the previous years) is the main reason for our inability to release water as per schedule for the first crop," said S. Suthanthira Amalraj, who retired as Executive Engineer, Periyar-Vaigai Basin Circle, Public Works Department, on Monday.

"If there is enough residual storage, water could be released on June 1, even if there is moderate summer showers, (expecting more flow into the Periyar dam during the southwest monsoon from June 1)," he added.

The situation has worsened in the last two years, as water could not be released even for the first crop. The discharge from the Vaigai dam was delayed till November for the second crop in 2002 and 2003.

Following the monsoon failure in recent times, Mr. Amalaraj suggested that the farmers go in either for alternate crops that consumed less water, or create their own water sources to raise paddy. "This will make the role of the PWD supplementary," he said.

The groundwater in the area had not been "fully tapped" by farmers. "Since they were assured of water impounded in the dams, most of them did not think of exploiting the groundwater aplenty in the double-crop area between Peranai and Kallandiri," he said.

P. Ramaraju, Joint Director (Agriculture), Madurai, endorsed the idea of raising alternate crops during the first-crop period, which he said, would help the farmers get an assured yield.

"At least, there will not be any break in their economic activities," Mr. Ramaraju said. "Though the farmers have come to grips with the reality, only 25 per cent of them have so far taken to alternate crops," he said.

On the alternate crops, Mr. Amalraj suggested that the rules governing water regulation be amended for the first crop of the double-crop area, and periodical wettings allowed only once in 15 days, (which would suit only the alternate crops, and not paddy).

Water release could be delayed only up to 20 days, as the grown-up crop might be affected by the northeast monsoon, and this delay might have a cascading effect on the second crop, for which water release was scheduled for September 15, Mr. Amalaraj said.

"In case of surplus water in the dams (after the alternate crops are cultivated), it could be reserved in the system tanks, which will help in the early commencement of paddy cultivation during the second crop," he said.