India File

Polls bring little hope for one of TN’s most backward districts

Swathi Moorthy | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 09, 2016

Crushed: The scaling down of sugar mills has affected over 200 jaggery units, like the one above. Now they have to source sugarcane from neighbouring districts - Photo: SWATHI MOORTHY   -  BusinessLine

dharmapuri-hdi

Free cycles and fans have little impact in Dharmapuri, ailed by unemployment, illiteracy



Asirvatham is a sugarcane farmer in Palacode, in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district. But instead of working on his farm, the 55-year-old sets out at 5am everyday to catch a bus to Hosur to work at a construction site. Though he has grown sugarcane in the farm, Asirvatham is not confident of a good harvest. With a debt of ₹50,000 and a less-than-normal monsoon forecast for the State, Asirvatham is worried that he would be unable to repay the money, let alone reap profits.

Hundreds of other farmers share the fate of Asirvatham here in Dharmapuri, which evokes the image of a dry land riddled with caste violence. Nothing much has changed in 50 years, irrespective of the political party that has headed the local administration. Even the ground water has run dry and the district was recently declared as a black area ( where all water resources have run dry). The only blessing is its proximity to Bengaluru and the industrial hub of Hosur, where many like Asirvatham head to for employment. “Dharmapuri district has 75 per cent farming population. But in the last five years, the area witnessed exodus of 3 lakh farmers, who were unable to save the crops due to insufficient rain,” says L Ravichandran, a doctor who runs a clinic in Palacode.Though a project to setup an irrigation canal from the Ponnaiyar river was proposed, it is yet to take off. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had promised to build a dam, which has not seen the light of the day. With a dip in sugarcane harvest, the region’s sugar mill, which used to employ more than 50,000 people directly and indirectly, has also suffered. In good times the mill crushed 4 lakh tonne sugarcanes annually. But in the last two years, the volume is down to 85,000 tonnes per annum.

Though there have been initiatives to use technology to improve farm yields and attract the younger generation to take up farming, locals complain of government apathy. But the dire situation hasn’t stopped Dharmapuri, which has the lowest literacy rate in the state, from becoming a hub for higher education in the last 10 years. “ Many educational institutions, government and private, came up in Dharmapuri. Having a quality education within the area is not an issue anymore but finding a qualified work is,” says Saravanan, Project Director, SEEDS, an NGO. When Jayalalithaa took charge as the Chief Minister, she had announced three projects to encourage small and medium business enterprises. But, says Saravanan, most of them are still on paper. Though the belt has a thriving fruits and vegetables cultivation, there are few avenues to bring value addition. A mega food park, announced in 2008 by the then Chief Minister K Karunanidhi, has not materialised.

The district’s woes have become a political opportunity for PMK, which has fielded its chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss to contest from Pennagaram. The district has dominant vanniyar population, followed by vellalars and dalits. Campaigning in the region for the upcoming elections, Ramadoss appealed to the Vanniyars and said, “DMK and AIADMK government did nothing to help you when they were in power.” He promised that if given a chance, he will focus on growth by bringing in industries and implement policies to improve agriculture. It remains to be seen if the people of Dharmpauri show their displeasure on the voting day, on May 16.

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Published on May 09, 2016
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