Water release from Mettur dam is hitting media headlines. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami is in Salem and will be there when the shutters are opened on Thursday. Delta farmers are not jubilant, however.
C Lokanathan, an experienced paddy farmer in Tiruchy, says , “There are two seasons kuruvai (short term) and long term (sambha) in delta. The present water release will take minimum 15 days to reach us. If we had planned to plant kuruvai we should have got our fields ready by June and by July first week we should be transplanting the seedlings to the main field. The final harvest will take place sometime in August or first week of September after which we go in for sambha planting. But this water releasing now will be of no help, since we can’t take up kuruvai cultivation now.”
“It is best that the water is run into lakes, ponds, and other water bodies instead of allowing it to run in irrigation channels since it is too late to do kuruvai plantation. Instead if the water is allowed into water bodies, it can help in water percolation and recharge groundwater so sambha can benefit,” explains R. Baskaran another leading farmer from Kumbakonam.
He further adds, “After sambha crop , farmers can go for pulse cultivation end of January , harvest it in March and again sow the same crop in April second week. This can help farmers somewhat.”
“This Mettur water is like a cat on the wall every year. I have sunk a borewell in my home but not in my field. My field has an open well and it goes dry during summer. The only comfort is the north-east monsoon but the well goes dry by May. Either it rains heavily and my crops get destroyed or drought hits us. This has been the situation in the last 55 years,” said K Velmurugan, a farmer from Lalgudi.
Some three-fourth of delta farmers depend on Mettur water. Though they have several borewells in their fields, the cost of drawing water through them using diesel motor is quite high since a litre of diesel costs Rs 70 today and the motor needs to run a few hours daily to wet the fields. Moreover there are three types of soil in the delta region – clayey, loamy and loose sandy soil. Water retention in areas where clayey soil is predominant gets a better yield since paddy requires water retention in the fields. Some farmers dependent on borewell water exclusively for irrigation may go for kuruvai but for the vast majority kuruvai is only a dream.
Baskaran’s idea is based on sound logic. But a senior rural development official asked: “Where are the water bodies today? I agree that villages have some temple tanks but where are the streams, ponds and lakes? Have you visited any village recently?”