“When there is no water to drink, what can we say about irrigation?” asked K Venkatesan, a farmer near Vridhachalam. Whether canal dependent or bore well irrigated, all crops have withered, he said.

Insurance compensation and the disbursement of the State government’s relief package have to be expedited, said farmers’ representatives.

Farmers have to be fully compensated and the cap of 5 acres for relief has to be removed, they observed.

Tamil Nadu is going through one of the harshest dry spells ever, with the government declaring the entire State drought hit after the south-west monsoons and north-east monsoons failed. The river systems have run dry and ground water is depleted.

Record low

According to official estimates, the normal rainfall during October-December, the NE monsoon, is 440 mm but last season it was down to 168 mm, the lowest in 140 years. The average drop in NE monsoon across the State was around 65 per cent and this was after a deficient SW monsoon.

Saying the dry spell is unprecedented in the State, S Ranganathan, General Secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association, pointed out that insurance packages should be made more farmer-oriented and relief measures provided in a timely manner.

New techniques

Tamil Nadu farmers, particularly those in the Cauvery delta, are particularly resilient to adverse crop conditions and have take up methods such as direct sowing to deal with delayed monsoons, and system of rice intensification, a resource efficient system of paddy cultivation. But the present drought incapacitated the farmers.

He himself has seen direct sowing of paddy — where nursery and transplantation are not done — yield just 25 per cent of output.

Against the normal 1.5 tonne an acre output, the land had yielded just about 350 kg of paddy, he said.

After declaring the State as drought-hit in January, the Tamil Nadu government came out with a relief package for farmers but there are widespread complaints about its inadequacy. Also, with the relief capped at about 5 acres, small farmers are fully covered while those with larger areas get only part relief.

How can the government distinguish between small farmers and large farmers in a disaster situation, asked farmers’ representatives.

Bore well troubles

In Cuddalore district as in other parts of the State, Venkatesan said, crops have been hit across the board, including canal-irrigated paddy and other crops such as cotton, maize, pulses and minor millets.

Bore well dependent crops are only a little better off as ground water has dropped to over 400 ft, twice of what is normal, and power supply is intermittent.

RV Giri, National President, Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations, said it is unfair that nearly 3,000 revenue villages that are bore well dependent have been left out of the relief coverage. “Why should that be?” he asked.

“In fact, farmers lose more money when they invest more in bore wells. But they are not eligible for relief.”