Declaration of drought

Crucial steps

Print edition : February 03, 2017

Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam meeting his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N. Chandrababu Naidu in Vijayawada on January 12 to seek an increase in the release of Krishna water. Photo: PTI

MGNREGS work on at Siruganur village in Tiruchi district on January 8. The Chief Minister’s package has increased the number of working days under the scheme to 150. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

Agriculture Minister R. Duraikkannu (fourth from right) inspecting a paddy field at Vadapathi village in Thanjavur district on January 7. Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam

The Chief Minister declares all the 32 districts of Tamil Nadu drought-affected and announces a relief package. Opposition parties welcome the announcement but want transparency in spending the funds.

ALTHOUGH Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam’s announcement on January 10 that his government would declare all the 32 districts in Tamil Nadu drought-affected is a victory for political parties that were pressing for it, they welcomed the announcement with caution and reservations. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) had demanded that the State be declared drought-affected. Panneerselvam heads the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government.

The highlight of the Chief Minister’s package of concessions are: all districts will be declared drought-hit because the rainfall from the north-east monsoon was extremely deficient in all parts of the State, land tax to be paid by farmers will be waived, and crop loans obtained by farmers from cooperative banks and commercial banks will be converted into medium-term loans. An important concession relates to compensation to be paid to farmers who lost 33 per cent of their yield. The Chief Minister said a compensation of Rs.5,465 an acre (0.4 hectare) would be given to farmers who cultivated paddy or other irrigated crops, Rs.7,287 will be given for long-term crops, and Rs.3,000 for rain-fed crops. A memorandum would be prepared and submitted to the Centre for financial assistance since a huge outlay is required to combat the fallout of the drought. To provide employment to agricultural labourers, the number of working days under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) would be increased from 100 to 150 days, the Chief Minister said.

Since the State government had paid a premium of Rs.410 crore as its share in the new crop insurance scheme, farmers would be able to benefit from it, he said. Thus, if the crop loss was 100 per cent for paddy, insurance claims between Rs.21,500 and Rs.26,000 could be received for an acre. It would be Rs.25,000 an acre for the districts in the Cauvery delta. The Chief Minister listed the insurance amounts that could be claimed depending on the percentage of loss of yield for paddy. Farmers can claim up to Rs.45,000 an acre for sugarcane, up to Rs.20,000 for sorghum, and up to Rs.50,000 for turmeric. An allocation of Rs.3,400 crore would be made for de-silting irrigation canals, lakes and ponds through the Department of Rural Development and Local Administration, Panneerselvam said. “Farm labourers affected by the drought will benefit from this,” he added. Some 17 farmers had committed suicide for “various reasons” in the past two years, and their families would be given a solatium of Rs.3 lakh each from the Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund, he said.

The Chief Minister’s package was a sequel to his decision on January 3 to send high-level teams comprising Ministers, District Collectors, and officials of the Agriculture Department and the Revenue Department to visit all the districts and submit reports to the government on the crop situation. The teams gave their reports to the government on January 9. The next day, Panneerselvam announced his government’s intention to declare all the districts drought hit.

Earlier, all parties across the political spectrum had demanded that the government declare the entire State drought hit. They attacked the Chief Minister for the delay in doing so. The CPI(M) announced demonstrations to press its demand. On December 30, K. Balakrishnan, president of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam affiliated to the CPI(M), P. Shanmugam, general secretary of the sangam, A. Lazar, president of the State Committee of the CPI(M)-affiliated All India Agricultural Workers’ Union, and V. Amirthalingam, its general secretary (in-charge), and others met Revenue Minister R.B. Udayakumar, Food Minister R. Kamaraj, Agriculture Minister R. Duraikannu and Handlooms and Textiles Minister O.S. Manian and submitted a memorandum to them.

The memorandum urged the government to set up a high-level committee to assess the drought; pay the crop insurance amount to farmers for 2015-16; de-silt irrigation canals, lakes and ponds; and distribute 30 kilograms of rice a month free of cost to the families of agricultural workers. It wanted a compensation of Rs.25,000 an acre for withered paddy and Rs.50,000 an acre for sugarcane and adequate compensation for rain-fed crops such as maize, ragi, groundnuts and betel leaves. The memorandum wanted the number of working days under the MGNREGS to be raised from the present 100 to 200 and demanded that workers be paid Rs.400 a day. A solatium of Rs.10 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund should be paid to families of farmers who committed suicide or died of shock when they saw their withered crops, it said.

M.K. Stalin, working president of the DMK, and other leaders of the party met Panneerselvam on January 4 and discussed with him the drought situation, suicide by farmers and the need to pay compensation to their families. Earlier, on December 27, Stalin accused the government of being lackadaisical in its approach to declaring the State drought hit and preparing the ground for receiving financial assistance from the Centre.

TMC president G.K. Vasan, TNCC president Su. Thirunavukkarasar, and MDMK general secretary Vaiko demanded separately that the government declare the State drought-affected.

The CPI(M), the DMK, the CPI, and the TMC welcomed the Chief Minister’s announcement that all the districts would be declared drought-hit, but with reservations. Shanmugam, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, G. Ramakrishnan, State secretary of the CPI(M), and Vasan attacked the government for its announcement that crop loans farmers had taken from cooperative banks and commercial banks would be converted into medium-term loans. “This would increase the farmers’ debt burden,” they said. They were disappointed that farmers who lost 33 per cent of their yield would be paid only Rs.5,465 an acre and Rs.3,000 for rain-fed crops. “It should be Rs.25,000 an acre for paddy,” Shanmugam said.

Ramakrishnan accused the AIADMK government of belittling farmers’ suicides when it said that although there were “various reasons” for the death of 17 farmers, their families would [still] be paid a solatium of Rs.3 lakh each. He demanded that the families of all farmers (who died of shock) be paid solatium. There should be no irregularities in the use of the Rs.3,400 crore set apart for de-silting irrigation canals, lakes and tanks, Shanmugam and Ramakrishnan said. They said agricultural workers should be engaged in the de-silting work.

Stalin said although Panneerselvam’s announcement came late, he appreciated the fact that the government was “making attempts to understand the farmers’ problems”. He wanted Rs.30,000 to be paid for an acre for loss of paddy instead of Rs.5,465. He lambasted the Chief Minister for claiming that only 17 farmers had committed suicide. Stalin said the families of farmers who died should be paid Rs.3 lakh each and one of their kin given a job in the government.

The DMK leader also demanded transparency in spending the money allotted for de-silting of waterbodies and upgrading the water distribution system. Vasan lamented that no relief was provided to agricultural workers. The number of working days under the MGNREGS should increase to 200, he said.

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