CHENNAI: With scorched lands and rapid depletion of groundwater, pursuing agriculture in Gudapakkam, Meyyur, and Nemam in Tiruvallur district now seems like a distant dream. It has been more than six months since 500 acres has seen any activity. “The water level has gone below 160 feet,’’ says M B Venkatesan (66) of Meyyur, who owns four acres in which he grew paddy, watermelon and groundnuts.
‘’One tonne of melon was sold for `5,000 and in one acre we got 15 tonnes,’’ he said adding that though there was not much rain last year they still had enough groundwater. ‘’If it rains, we just need 70 days to cultivate watermelons,’’ he said. Unlike farmers from Nemam who have borewells (up to 60 feet), farmers from the other two villages grow only rainfed crops and also depend on Gudappakkam and Nemam lakes, which now run dry. ‘’The cost of sinking a borewell ranges between `1.5 and 2 lakh. Nobody in our village can afford it,’’ he said.
In Gudapakkam, a village that has 2,400 households, paddy is the staple crop. “In one acre, we used to harvest 20-30 bags (each weighing 35-40 kg) in two months, with one bag selling between `900 to 1,000,’’ said Ramamoorthy C (50) adding that last year they harvested two crops. Gudapakkam also suffers drinking water problems. “Usually, we get drinking water from tankers from Nemam, but for the past six months, we are using borewells (120 feet) and the water is bitter. We are forced to buy water cans for `25 while some make use of panchayat taps,’’ said S Sreenivasan (43). He is one of the farmers who has given up on farming and has gone on to earn a living elsewhere. ‘’Today I drive commercial vehicles (vans or buses) for a living,’’ he said.
Since Gudapakkam and Meyyur do not have resources to maintain cattle, they let them loose to graze in the fields of Nemam, some four km from Gudapakkam. This has irked the local farmers. ‘’We fear to sow paddy because cows in large numbers stray in our fields and destroy the crops,’’ said Suresh R (49) of Nemam, who has fenced eight acres of his land at a cost of `25,000. However, the current situation at Nemam is no different as it has been two months since any cultivation has taken place.
The youth from Meyyur and Gudapakkam now work as labourers, while some old farmers remain unemployed. ‘’Only if it rains and the Nemam and Gudapakkam lakes get full our livelihood will be safe,” says Venkatesan.Tiruvallur experienced sporadic rain on Wednesday which brought some cheer to the farmers.