THE mood in the Cauvery delta districts in Tamil Nadu swung from one of subdued joy to despair following the Supreme Court's directive to Karnataka to release water and the subsequent decision of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) to whittle down the quantum of water to be released. Farmers in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Tiruchi districts are not sure whether the quantity will be enough to raise the samba paddy crop. Most of them feel that taking up samba cultivation will be a gamble.
Reacting to the CRA decision of September 8, directing Karnataka to supply 0.8 tmc ft of water every day at the Mettur reservoir, S. Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, said the quantum was "absolutely not sufficient" for raising the samba crop. He said more than 1.25 tmc ft was required every day for samba from now until the Northeast Monsoon sets in over Tamil Nadu by the middle of October. According to him, Tamil Nadu was being reasonable when Chief Minister Jayalalithaa asked for only 30 tmc ft.
Ranganathan accused Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee of having "conducted the CRA meeting like a katta panchayat" (kangaroo court). "Vajpayee was very assertive during the first CRA meeting in 1998. That assertion is not to be found now. He is so yielding," he added. Ranganathan accused the Monitoring Committee of having "failed to collect the data" about the amount of water required by Tamil Nadu. "The Monitoring Committee failed to listen to our arguments. The CRA and the Monitoring Committee are blind to the realities in Tamil Nadu," he said.
S. Manavalan, retired Chief Engineer (Irrigation), Public Works Department, Tamil Nadu, who had played an important role in the Cauvery issue in the late 1970s, said that as things stood now, 0.8 tmc ft a day was totally inadequate. "We should supplement it with what we have got. Ryots should use the water carefully," he added.
The farmers realise that Karnataka pressured Vajpayee to convene a meeting of the CRA on September 8. The refrain of the farmers is: "The Centre should not succumb to pressure from Karnataka because justice has been done to us by the Supreme Court." This year, Tamil Nadu farmers have not been able to raise the kuruvai paddy crop on about three lakh acres (1.2 lakh hectares) as Karnataka refused to release any water. Ranganathan maintained that the Karnataka government's aim was to hurry up the CRA meeting, get a decision, and flout it. "Then we will have to go to the Supreme Court again," he said.
Kaliyamurthy, a farmer at Needamangalam in Tiruvarur district, said that the Supreme Court's directive had brought "real relief to us" but he was worried about Karnataka's "machinations" and the Centre's "soft corner" for Karnataka.
THE opening of the Mettur dam on the evening of September 6 did not enthuse Cauvery delta farmers. The normal date for the opening of the reservoir, which is the only receiving point for Cauvery waters from Karnataka, is June 12. Farmers say that unless there is 50 tmc ft of water in the reservoir, they cannot take up samba cultivation with confidence. Samba crop on 12 lakh acres (4.8 lakh ha) in the Cauvery delta districts requires 150 tmc ft. As on the morning of September 7, the storage position in the reservoir was 29.768 tmc ft, against a capacity of 93.4 tmc ft. This, after it had received 5,012 cusecs of water from Karnataka for the 24-hour period that ended on September 7 morning.
Arumugam, a small farmer of Thiruthuraipoondi, said that there was not enough time left for the transplantation of saplings before the Northeast Monsoon sets in. The crop should grow enough to withstand the monsoon. "When this is the situation, if the flow from Karnataka is not sustained the farmers will be left in the lurch again," he said.
Farmers in Tiruchi district are of the opinion that the release from Mettur should have been postponed to give them time to do the preparatory work for sowing. "We cannot start the sowing for samba trusting that the supply will continue," said M.R. Sivaswamy, president, Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam. "However, the Supreme Court's directive established that the waters in the Cauvery belonged to Tamil Nadu also, not to Karnataka alone," he added.
IN Tiruchi district, water being released from Mettur led to a spectacle. Right from Tiruchi town to Kulithalai, intense quarrying of sand was going on on the Cauvery river bed because there were no rains in the past six months. The quarried sand had been heaped on the river bed and workers toiled day and night from September 5 to remove it in lorries. On the river bed of the lower Bhavani in Salem district, rampant quarrying is going on as the drought has rendered people jobless.
For Ponnusamy of Pannaivadi village near Mettur, the release of water from the dam meant little as the water does not flow by his village. The drought has cut a swath of scorched fields and there are no grazing grounds for cattle. Ponnuswamy makes a living by raising goats. Each goat normally sells for Rs.1,400 to Rs.1,500. Ponnusamy said: "The goats are emaciated because there is no grazing ground, and we are not able to sell them." Murugaiyan of Kottur said he was not able to maintain his cattle because straw and water were unavailable. The number of cattle sold in the Thanjavur weekly shandy had jumped from 1,000 to about 3,000 in recent weeks
The drought is so severe that even the sturdy palmyra trees have started withering at Mettankadu near Salem, and also in Thanjvur and Tuticorin districts.
About ten lakh farm labourers in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts were jobless for the past several months. Manoharan, a farmer from Tiruvarur, pointed out that drought relief work provided by the government was no substitute for regular agricultural work. "If samba cultivation does not take place, people will starve and die," he said.
In the composite South Arcot district, farmers are in a bitter mood as they have been left out of the ambit of the Rs.164 crore worth relief measures for the delta farmers. There is a severe drought in Chidambaram and Kattumannarkovil taluks.
G. Kanagasabai, president, Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, welcomed the Supreme Court's directive. The State government should take into consideration the amount of water that reaches the Mettur dam and draw up a realistic scheme to raise the samba crop in as much area as possible, he said.
Ranganathan said that the release of water from Mettur would help recharge the aquifers. In the coastal areas, groundwater has become saline as there had been no rainfall for the past three years and sea water incursion had taken place up to 5 km from the coast. The salinity level would now go down. He said that farmers would mostly go for direct sowing. In other areas, the land would be irrigated and kept ready for sowing. "So wherever possible, nurseries will be raised," Ranganathan said.
The drought has whipped up a big campaign in Tiruchi city to create an awareness about rain water harvesting methods. Charubala Tondaman, the Mayor of Tiruchi, is leading the campaign. The municipal corporation has constructed about 500 big and small rain water harvesting structures, each costing between Rs.200 and Rs.20,000.