Cauvery overflows, but farmers have no water

The dry canal at Sengipatti in Thanjavur district. DH Photo

Cauvery is overflowing for the first time in 13 years and this should have enthused thousands of farmers in the delta region who depend on the river water for irrigation. But farmers in Sengipatti of Thanjavur district, located just 15 km from Grand Anicut – probably the oldest dam from where water is released to the Delta – are protesting for water.

Strange it may sound, but a look at the canal that passes through the village is enough for one to understand the anguish of the farmers. The canal is dry – not even a drop of water, though the area does not even fall under tail-end category which usually encounters such problems.
 
And the situation is worse in tail-end areas in Mannargudi of Thiruvarur district. Sixty kilometres away from Sengipatti, stands the Pamani River, which irrigates thousands of acres, near Mannargudi -- full of bushes and Karuvelam tree – not even any trace of desilting could be seen.
 
First look at the river, one would think they are in a distress year – but the inflow into Cauvery from Mukkombu has been more than 50,000 cusecs of water and still nature’s elixir has not reached the needy, who are hopeful of cultivating at least one crop this year.
 
Farmers allege that the government has not desilted the majority of the lakes, rivers and ponds in the delta region before the Monsoon, which has affected the water flow and its diversion from the normal route. They also allege that the Tamil Nadu government decided to release water from Mettur dam on July 19 without much preparations on the ground – even farmers were not ready for cultivation.
 
“There is a deluge of water everywhere, but it has not reached the tail-end areas till now. The government was taken unawares, and they were just not prepared for the monsoon and release of water. Maintenance work of irrigation facilities and desilting of lakes, ponds and rivers were just not done, leading to wastage of water,” S Ranganathan, Secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Association, told DH.
 
Overlooking the empty canal at Sengipatti, V Jeevakumar of Agricultural Workers’ Union, alleges that the government began desilting of canals and other water bodies only after it opened the sluices of Stanley Reservoir in Mettur. “They did not even strengthen the river bunds before the release of water. Though there are 110 lakes in the area, we still don’t have water and being close the Grand Anicut has not made any difference to us,” Jeevakumar said.
 
Reaching water to the tail-end areas have always been a major challenge, but due to non-maintenance of water bodies, water could not be taken to these zones even in a surplus year, Ranganathan, who was at the forefront of the legal battle on Cauvery river water, said.
 
Along the Korai River, 15 km from Mannargudi, farmers are distressed and not too enthused about water reaching their fields. “We have now started cultivation of samba crops and we hope we will get water at least in the next few days. Since the water was released from Mettur in an unusual period, not many farmers have benefitted,” Vilvam, a former government official who is now into farming, said.
 
Deivamani, another farmer who owns 10 acres of land, says they receive water from Korai and Pamani river, which is yet to be desilted. “The government says they have spent a huge amount of money on maintaining the water bodies. But water has not reached us now. It has been a month since Mettur was opened. So far, no water for irrigation,” Deivamani told DH at the Sokkanur-Perugavazhthan bridge across Pamani River.

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