From being the primary vocation of millions in the State, farming is no longer the preferred means of living for most in the State. Regular monsoon failure and lack of adequate remuneration force farmers to sell their land at a better price and move to the cities, often as migrants.
“Despite having 25 acres of land, I am not making any profit from agriculture. The government gives Rs 12,000 an acre as loan, but of what good is that? I would rather give the land to the government and get Rs 12,000 a month,” says K Kumchithapatham, a member of Cauvery Delta Farmers Aassociation. “Agriculture doesn’t pay any more and the government is not keen on helping the farmers. So to make his ends meet, the farmer has to sell wetland for a good price,” said a veteran farmer from Tiruvarur, who added that there was not enough water even for single crop in the Cauvery delta.
Cheran, the chairman of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagai Farmers Federation said it was the shortage of farm hands that had crippled the State’s agricultural sector. After struggling season after season, the farmer is forced to look for options. “Since farm land along the state highways fetches them good price, they sell it,” he says. Another serious issue is the depletion of water sources. In Madurai, for instance, the widespread granite mining even on Ooranis has seriously hit farming. According to M Vijayabaskar, assistant professor, MIDS, there should be efforts to protect waterbodies to ensure that there was adequate water for irrigation.
Over the last 30-40 years, the State lost lakhs of acres of wetland as they were converted to residential layouts. Wetlands once lost cannot be retrieved, said C Vayapuri, president, United Farmers Association of Tamil Nadu. “There is a need to protect the wetlands and the government should bring in a clause to stop sale of wetlands for industries or real estate,” he said. Vijayabaskar made another suggestion that wetlands could be sold, but only to farmers, to be used for farming.
However, Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI) Chennai president Ajith Chordia disagreed, stating that such a clause would affect the right of the land holding individual. “If there are four brothers and the land is being divided, one would want to sell it and make money. By stopping him from selling the land would infringe on his right,” says Chordia.
There are also instances where the land has been forcibly taken to convert it into industrial estates. Giving an instance, Ramalingam, a farmer turned RTI activist, alleged that the authorities were not truthful when they stated that agriculture land in Sivarakottai in Madurai was barren and gave consent for its acquisition. “Even the land records were burnt,” he alleged, adding that the land was fertile and crops were sown even now.
Despite the odds, many like him are not willing to give up yet. “They have to withdraw the land acquisition order,” says the farmer, who has been filing RTI petitions to unearth the truth behind the lies by the government of the time.