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Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said fliers would be handed out to farmers to discourage them from growing water intensive crops. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said fliers would be handed out to farmers to discourage them from growing water intensive crops. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Siddaramaiah plea against paddy farming in Karnataka draws farmers’ ire

Siddaramaiah says southern Karnataka has more than 268,000 acres of paddy cultivation area and losses due to failure of rains after sowing would leave the farmers in a worse state

Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday made an emotional plea to farmers from the state’s southern region to avoid planting the extremely water intensive paddy crop this year as this could lead to an acute drinking water shortage in the state which is staring at its 14th drought year in 17 years.

Siddaramaiah said water released from the four dams—Krishna Raja Sagar, Kabini, Harangi and Hemavati—from 10 August would be used to fill up tanks and lakes ahead of the imminent dry spell to ensure drinking water for people and cattle.

He added that fliers issued by the government would be handed out to farmers to discourage them from growing the water intensive paddy and sugarcane crops.

But the chief minister’s request has not gone down well with farmers’ associations in the state for lack of an alternative.

“We reject this request," said Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, president of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (state farmers’ association). “We (Karnataka) release water to Tamil Nadu for paddy cultivation. What sense does it make to prevent farmers here from growing them?" he told Mint.

Siddaramaiah said southern Karnataka has more than 268,000 acres of paddy cultivation area and losses due to failure of rains after sowing would leave the farmers in a worse state.

Chandrashekar said with the kharif crop failing and rabi staring at the same result, the state government should take concrete measures or face intensified farmer protests. He said the chief minister should focus his efforts on getting justice for Karnataka and its farmers who have been at the receiving end of multiple verdicts of the Supreme Court and the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in a conflict that dates back at least 150 years.

Farmer associations such as the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha (KPRS) have said that mere appeals will not suffice. “What is the alternative provided by the government? Making appeals will not bear result as there is no assurance on how the struggling farmer will be assisted during these difficult times," said T. Yeshwantha, president of the KPRS, Mandya district.

Farmers like Yeshwantha say the government must show action through drought relief measures such as providing employment and steady earnings along with other basic requirements of the agricultural sector. The promotion of coarse grains, considered drought resistant, has had few takers as the risks of failure remain the same.

With only around 30% irrigation, much of the state depends on rainfall for agriculture, failing which the debt burden on farmer rises. Siddaramaiah’s recent efforts seeking a reassessment of the State Disaster Relief Funds (SDRF) allocation is yet to bear any result.

The state government had issued an advisory last year as well asking farmers not to sow water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane in view of the imminent drought.

“What do we get if we heed their plea?" asks Yeshwantha.

He said unless all farm loans from nationalized, commercial and state cooperative banks are waived off, employment provided through the year, food for humans and fodder for cattle is provided, these pleas would not have any effect.

In June, Siddaramaiah had announced crop loan waiver of up to Rs50,000 per farmer, totaling Rs8,165 crore.

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