With the closure of all the 17 irrigation channels in Cumbum Valley, paddy crop on 14,707 acres in the valley and 5,000 acres irrigated by Thanthai Periyar Channel has started withering.
“Farmers harvested 10.14 tonnes per hectare, the highest in the State, during the last season. But, we may harvest only half the quantity now. The production loss is estimated at 80,000 tonnes,” say members of Cumbum Farmers Association.
The worst-affected are farmers in Gudalur and Cumbum blocks, where the crop is 80 days old. One wetting with the release of 25 cusecs of water for five days will suffice to protect the crop on 2,000 acres, they say.
In other areas, the crop is 35 to 60 days old. It requires water for 45 to 60 days. The farmers will lose Rs.25,000 to Rs.35,000 per acre, they add.
They say PWD officials refuse to release Periyar dam water for irrigation.
The level in the dam stood at 111 feet, and water can be released till it reaches 104 feet.
The officials want water to meet the drinking water needs of 65 lakh people living in Madurai, seven municipalities, 736 town panchayats and over 2,000 panchayats in five southern districts till June.
Poor planning, lethargic attitude of the government, violation of government orders, excessive political intervention in releasing water and illegal tapping in the Periyar river are the reasons for the present situation, the valley farmers say.
The PWD had drawn water from Periyar dam to improve Vaigai dam storage level, expecting rain in October and November, but there was no rain.
They released water from Vaigai to irrigate the first crop in Madurai district in June, instead of September as done normally, says progressive farmer A. Abbas.
Illegal tapping is also rampant in Periyar river. Kerala is drawing a lot of water from leading supply channel of Periyar river. But Tamil Nadu did not prevent it. Over 25,000 oil pumps are used to draw water illegally from the Periyar river between Gudalur and PC Patti to save perennial and cash crops, allege farmers.
“We are tired of staging protests demanding water, as the government has failed to understand the situation,” says H. Sowber Ai, secretary, Periyar Irrigation Farmers Association, Uthamapalayam.
“Now the paddy crop is at milking stage in Uthamapalayam,” he noted.