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Tuesday, Aug 06, 2002

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SIV plant closure hits farmers

L.N. Revathy

Banana plants withering due to the closure of SIV's effluent treatment plant.


THE halting of operations at SIV Industries plant has dashed not just the hopes of its employees, but also that of the 100-odd farmers who were using the treated effluents discharged from the plant to irrigate their fields.

These farmers have suffered for years for want of adequate water for irrigation.

And as the area is located in the rain-shadow region at the foot of the Nilgiris, hundreds of acres had remained barren. Only pulses and cereals were raised in a small way under rain-fed conditions.

However all this changed when the SIV Industries embarked on a project for discharging its treated effluents two years back.

For discharging its treated effluents on land, the company acquired 800 acres in Mothur, Chittepalayam and Pethikuttai hamlets in the Irumbarai revenue village.

Pipelines were laid for pumping the treated effluents and the land readied for cultivation. Cash crops like sugarcane and banana were raised.

In the process, the company as well as the farmers living in that belt benefited.

The project also boosted the cost of the land in that belt. From less that Rs 20,000 per acre prior to 1999, land cost swelled to about Rs1.5 lakh per acre, when SIV Industries started acquiring the land.

According to Mr P.S. Ramachandran, President of the Treated Water Irrigated Area Farmers' Association, the entire stretch turned green soon after SIV Industries started discharging its treated effluents.

Well water levels got recharged and "we used to earn between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 per crop per acre in a season, but by utilising the water discharged from the SIV plant for irrigating our lands, our earnings swelled to Rs 75,000 per season, per crop.

This was unbelievable. We were tempted. We took to intensive cultivation practices by spending huge sums in improving the fertility of the soil, in green manuring etc. Before we realised the extent of our commitment, the unit had halted operations and we are back to square one — no water, and because of the failure of the monsoon for the third year in a row, the entire stretch now wears the look of a desert," he laments.

Most of the farmers in that belt have pledged all their belongings to get the maximum returns from their land holdings. They are now at the mercy of private financiers as they have no means to repay their dues. Some have fled to neighbouring towns and district owing to hostile land and weather conditions in Sirumugai, says Mr Ramachandran.

Farm workers in that belt have also been rendered jobless. About 500 farm workers, who worked on the land acquired by the company, have since migrated to other areas.

Notwithstanding the operational loss, the company has been hit hard because of the huge sums that it had invested towards this project. It is learnt that the company invested about Rs 80 cr in acquiring the land, laying the pipelines and in land development.

According to Dr Debasish Ghosh, General Manager, Agroforestry and Biotechnology Division, SIV Industries, the yield per acre of cane cultivated in the lands acquired by the company was above the national average at 50 tonnes. "As much as 20,000 tonnes have been harvested in two crop seasons, and we found a buyer in a sugar mill," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Ramachandran points out that the bananas raised in his field was drying up because of acute shortage of water. Robusta, Nendran, Kadali and Moris varieties of banana were raised in that belt.

According to the marketing committee sources, these bananas were quoted at a premium, despite the huge arrivals. During the current season, the market has been witnessing a sharp fall in arrivals.

The farmers are unable to dispense their holdings to settle their dues as there are no takers.

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