Early release of water from Mettur is historic, but benefit to farmers is under debate
The last time the water was released from Mettur dam before the normal date of June 12 was in 1942 | Photo: iStock

Early release of water from Mettur is historic, but benefit to farmers is under debate

While some farmers feel that paddy cultivation will be bountiful this year, some say the government has overlooked the cropping pattern changes that are taking place in the region

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For the first time since Independence, Tamil Nadu is set to release Cauvery water from Mettur dam this year on May 24 for irrigating about 4 lakh acres in 10 delta districts.  Usually, water from the dam is released on June 12 and, almost every year, farmers in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka fight over the released volume when the monsoon plays truant.

Fortunately, this year, since there has been copious rains in the Cauvery catchment area, it is expected that the water stored in Mettur dam would attain its full capacity (120 ft). As on May 21, it stood at 115.35 feet. This has led the state to release the water from Mettur beforehand. The last time the water was released before the normal date was in 1942.

For farmers, the proverb – when it rains it pours – is coming true. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has predicted that the south-west monsoon will set in early this year. That will help the farmers to take up paddy cultivation in more acres.

‘Possibility for additional cultivation’

Considering the early release of water and the advancement of monsoon rains, the farmers in Tamil Nadu are sure that the paddy cultivation would be bountiful this year.

“If there is a good rain and timely release of water from Mettur, the state will achieve successful cultivation in 4 lakh acres. This time, since both the release of water and monsoon rains are advanced, we hope that we can cultivate an additional 3 lakh acres. Though the rains are advanced due to climate change, it still benefits us,” Dhanapal, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Cauvery Farmers Protection Association, told The Federal.

Also read: Problem of plenty: TN farmers perturbed despite bountiful paddy crop

He added that it is the Kuruvai season (June-August) that guarantees the farmers definitive yields compared to the Samba season (September-December).

“If there is no north-east monsoon, we cannot carry Samba cultivation. In recent years, the monsoon causes floods and because of that we face pest attacks,” he added.

‘Incomplete tank maintenance works’

According to farmers, the advanced release of water from Mettur has many advantages. First, the water can also be used extensively for Samba crops. Second, if the water reaches Nagapattinam district, which is at the tail-end of the delta region, the south-west monsoon rains can be deftly handled and thereby the crops can be saved from water inundation. Third, the water table can increase. Fourth, since the yield is going to be large, the government will have sufficient time to procure paddy and the last-minute hustle and wastage of crop – because of exposing it to rains – can be avoided largely.

“But the key to reap all these benefits lies in proper maintenance of tanks along the Cauvery banks. Since the kudimaramathu (traditional way of maintaining the tanks) works have not been carried in the state for the last two years, it is doubtful how far this historic move would benefit the farmer,” PR Pandian, president, Tamil Nadu Federation of Farmers Association, told The Federal.

It was only last month that the government allocated Rs 80 crore to take up maintenance work in tanks, canals and drains, which the farmers allege is delayed.

“Though a communication from the government says that the maintenance works are complete, in most parts of the state the desilting and strengthening of bunds are still incomplete,” Pandian added.

Changing cropping patterns

It should be noted that the Mettur dam was not opened on the customary date for almost a decade between 2010-2020 due to shortage of rains. It is in this backdrop that most farmers and supporters of the present disposition are hailing the advanced release of water as a major achievement.

However, those closely following the developments taking place in the delta districts said that the government should look beyond treating the early release of water itself as an achievement. Talking to The Federal, former professor Thanga Jayaraman, a resident from one of the delta districts, Tiruvarur, said the government has overlooked the cropping pattern changes that are taking place in the region.

“For almost 40 years, from the year of opening of the dam to 1974, the date June 12 had enjoyed a great reverence among the farmers. But the situation has changed now. The climate is changing and so is the cropping pattern. Whether the water is released on June 12 or late, the farmers nowadays are not planning agricultural activities based on the release of water. In districts like Thanjavur and Tiruvarur, the farmers start sowing paddy only in September. For that, expecting water from the Mettur dam is becoming pointless,” said Jayaraman, who authored books like Cauvery Karaiyil Appodhu (‘On the Banks of the Cauvery Then) and Cauvery Verum Neeralla (‘Cauvery is Not Just Water’).

“On the face of it, it may look that the early release of water will lead to additional cultivation in Kuruvai season. But in reality, it will burden the farmers because even if they have good yields, unless the government procures it from them, the product would not bring any big profits,” said Jayaraman.

“The government already has large stocks. Besides, cotton is gradually replacing paddy. In more than 1.5 lakh acres, cotton is being cultivated. It doesn’t require much water. Similarly, in the tail-end districts like Mayiladuthurai and Nagapattinam, farmers are not cultivating paddy through saplings. Instead, they have shifted to direct sowing. For that method, rain is important. The Cauvery water does not help them because it would help grow herbs rather than paddy,” he added.

Also read: After 11 years, Tamil Nadu to open Mettur Dam for paddy cultivation

Whether the water is released on the customary date or not, whether the monsoon plays truant or not, about 2 lakh acres of lands is cultivated in Kuruvai season with the help of borewells. For that, the farmers want uninterrupted electricity.

“In the past, surplus water from the Mettur dam would be diverted to Kollidam river and that enters the sea. To avoid that, the government is advancing the release of water. So, there is nothing to celebrate in the advanced release of water this year,” Jayaraman said.

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