While the Central Government has taken a pledge to double the farmers’ income and the State Government ambitiously planned to increase agriculture production to 115 lakh tonnes in this fiscal, hundreds of acres of fertile lands in Theni district are vanishing at an alarming rate, thanks to development work taking place disproportionately on agricultural lands.
A large tract of fertile lands in both rain-fed and irrigated areas are being bulldozed and segmented for housing and commercial use. First, large tracts of fertile lands in Cumbum Valley had been acquired for highway projects. A major portion of the acquired land is paddy fields stretching from Veerapandi, Chinnamanur, Uthamapalayam to Cumbum and Goodalur.
Next, wetlands on both side of the highway have been utilised for commercial purposes. The irony is that petrol pumping stations and godowns are set up on paddy fields. An irrigation channel is flowing in front of a petrol pumping station in Chinnamanur.
Today, the fertile Cumbum Valley is shrinking rapidly. Farmers table many reasons for such pathetic conditions — uncertainty in southwest monsoon, poor storage and inordinate delay in releasing water from Periyar dam for the first crop, acute water shortage, crop failure and no support for marginal and poor farmers.
Failure of the south-west monsoon and poor storage in Periyar dam have reduced double-cropping area of Cumbum Valley into a single cropping area. Normally, water is released from Periyar dam on June 1. But water release has been erratic since 2010. Farmers had to abandon the first crop often. The first crop was completely destroyed in 2012 owing to acute drought. The worst affected were small and marginal farmers. The first crop is uncertain in Cumbum Valley.
Uncertainties in farm activities have speeded up the pace of destruction. In 2011, the government amended the land regulations act to stop the conversion of wetlands. But these regulations neither save farmers nor prevent realtors. Land sales bring more income to farmers rather than farming. Realtors always lure farmers. With no choice, poor farmers have to concede to realtors’ interests.
The worst of all is the Meeru Samudram tank near Alli Nagaram. Today, the ayacut of this tank has vanished and the water body remains a mute witness to the destruction. The entire ayacut has been converted into residential colonies, godowns, warehouses, petrol bunks and commercial complexes.
Vaigai River, the lifeline of southern districts, too has become a seasonal water carrier owing to the destruction of natural resources on Varusha Nadu and Megamalai hills. Water flows in the river only during the rainy season and it remains dry throughout the year converting thousands of acres in Theni and Andipatti blocks into rain-fed one.
Besides, many irrigation tanks have shrunk to one-third of their original size, thanks to encroachments. Supply channels have ceased to exist owing to poor maintenance. Ultimately, small farmers, who depend on these tanks to raise a single crop, suffer. Wanton negligence in fulfilling even genuine demands – construction of check dams across the Vaigai and desilting of supply channels – has forced many farmers to abandon farming and become mill workers. Such situations force farmers to think that selling the land is worth more than farming it.
While realtors have grabbed wetlands in Cumbum Valley, windmills have swallowed large portions of lands in Andipatti. Now windmills are spread from Bodi up to Thevaram. About 450 windmills are operating in the district.
But the Agriculture department maintains that the total area under Cumbum valley is 14,707 acres. In reality, it is not. Nature has taught us often the importance of agriculture. When the economy remains paralysed all over the world, including India, only agriculture gives hope. Economists forecast that agriculture alone will stabilise the economy. Agriculture offers immediate employment to people, ensuring their survival.
People throughout the world realise that loss of farmland is irretrievable. Once agri-land is converted into buildings and flats, it would never become farmland. Farmlands are essential to feed a growing population. Unfortunately, planners do not realise it.