Chennai/ Nagapattinam: Tamil Nadu chief minister O.Panneerselvam on Tuesday declared Tamil Nadu as a drought-hit state, based on the report submitted by an assessment team.
“Across Tamil Nadu there has been rainfall deficit during the north-east monsoon. All districts in the state are declared drought hit,” said Panneerselvam.
Land tax has been waived for agricultural lands, said the chief minister in a statement.
This is a bad year for farmers in Tamil Nadu. The north-east monsoon, which brings rain to the Cauvery delta, failed and the south-west monsoon, which makes landfall in Kerala and drains the slopes of the Western Ghats and the Cauvery, brought much less rainfall than usual.
The government was caught unprepared. It moved court in a bid to force neighbouring Karnataka to release more water from the Cauvery when it became apparent that the rains would stay away. Now, after a spate of suicides in Nagapattinam district at the tail end of the Cauvery, the government had recently appointed a team to take stock of the crops. On Tuesday, the committee filed the findings.
It has been 10 days since Mariammal lost her father Kaliya Perumal. He drank tea and went out to inspect his field, she said. That is where he collapsed and died.
He had been worried about the paddy crop he had sown, which is now wilting in the blazing sun. He did not have a borewell and when the rains failed in Nagapattinam and the Cauvery ran dry, the crop that he had taken loans to sow failed.
With the kuruvai (cultivated from May to August-September) crop a failure, farmers in Tamil Nadu were hopping that the samba (cultivated from August-September to January) crop would save them. A 19% deficit in the south-west monsoon (June- September) affected the kuruvai crop. Now, a 62% deficit in the north-east monsoon (considered the lifeline of Tamil Nadu) has ruined the samba harvest. Plus, the cash crunch in the wake of demonetization led to farmers’ debt levels spiking.
A friend and neighbour, Jayabhaskar, said, “He (Perumal) would worry about the loans he had taken and the crop that was destroyed. We have all taken loans, why do you worry, I would tell him.”
Just a few days are left for Pongal—the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu. Things have never been this bad, Jayabhaskar said. Whenever the rains failed, the river always came to their rescue—it would rain elsewhere and the water would make its way to Nagapattinam.
But this time around the river has dried up.
Nowhere has this problem surfaced to the extent it has in Nagapattinam, where many farmers have killed themselves and countless more are said to have succumbed to grief, fear and anxiety.
Experts agree that the delta districts are different from the rest of Tamil Nadu, especially Nagapattinam that receives the last leg of river water. Its proximity to the sea also makes it susceptible to saline water intrusion.
More than 16 lakh acres depend on the water from the Mettur dam—the Cauvery’s entry point to Tamil Nadu—from where it is released to farmers in the Cauvery delta region who require close to 330 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water for an entire rice-growing year.
The water level in the dam stands at 36.54 feet as on Monday, as against its full capacity of 120 feet. The storage level is at 10.37 tmcft against the full capacity of 93.47 tmcft.
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The Cauvery delta zone includes Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts.
The high clay content in the soil in this region renders it unsuitable crops other than rice, said P. Dhanapal, a farmer in Mannargudi, said, adding that the yield was very low when he tried pulses.
Mannargudi S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association, agrred. “Nothing else will grow in this delta soil, which has grown rice for over 2,000 years.”
He added that matters would have been better if the water that is available in Kerala and Karnataka is given to Tamil Nadu. “We will produce all the requirements of these states and give it to them. That has been the practice all along,” Ranganathan added.
The Tamil Nadu government, which has remained a silent spectator for the past two months, finally seemed to have realized the extent of farmer distress when an assessment team was formed last week, that submitted a report on Tuesday.
The central government last Thursday approved a drought relief package of Rs1,782 crore for Karnataka—far short of the Rs4,702 crore demanded by the state government.
On the same day, Tamil Nadu government received a notice from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), taking suo motu cognizance of media reports which claimed that 106 farmers had died in just one month in Tamil Nadu, either due to heart attack or suicide.
The Madras high court has also directed the state government to file an affidavit within four weeks regarding the steps taken by it to prevent farmer suicides.
“Tamil Nadu is a little touchy in accepting that farmers have committed suicide. They try to project that everything is normal, which is not going to help in any way. Realizing the reality is more important at this stage and efforts should be taken to control farmer suicides, which means we need a road map ahead for this perennial problem,” said an academician who did not wish to be identified.