VELLORE: Farmers of two panchayats — Girisamuthiram and Necknamalai — have been irrigating their fields with sewage water from Vaniyambadi Municipality for the last three decades, rather than groundwater, since they believe the groundwater was highly polluted with effluents from the leather industries.
Crops such as paddy, corn, maize, sugarcane and fodder are being grown on 500 acres of land that have been irrigated with sewage water in these two panchayats. It is also used for coconut farms, besides feeding livestock. The farmers divert the municipality sewage water from Girisamuthiram channel to their lands. “We share the sewage water among ourselves. We mix it with the well water in 3:1 ratio and use it for irrigation,” said 53-year-old farmer Arumugam of Girisamuthiram. He also feeds his milch animals the filtered sewage water.
Using sewage water to irrigate the fields of Girisamuthiram and Necknamalai has been in vogue for the past 30 years and has become an ‘acceptable’ practice, as farmers contend it is a choice between the lesser of two evils. The farmers claim that the groundwater has Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) of over 5,000 mg/l while sewage water from the Vaniyambadi municipality has around 2,000 TDS mg/l. “Ground water in and around Girisamuthiram has been declared unfit for human consumption. The TDS level has crossed over 5,000 mg/l. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s (TNPCB) monitoring well in the vicinity is a clear proof for this,” said a farmer and added that they were forced to use sewage for irrigation due to non-availability of good water sources.
The farmers allege, perhaps justifiably, that the leather industry has caused ecological damage discharging untreated effluents into water bodies, particularly the Palar riverbed. “If we use the well water, the crops wither due to the high level of TDS. The sewage water has now turned into a lifeline for the agricultural activities here,” said farmer Prakasam in Girisamuthiram.
Despite the farmers considering the sewage water to be their ‘lifeline’, experts from Krishi Vigyan Kendra say that the practice of irrigating the fields with sewage water will harm the soil and that agri-produce grown on such soil would be unfit for human consumption.