Farmers and agricultural labourers from Tamil Nadu Farmers Union held road roko and rail roko protests on March 14th to highlight the apathy of the State Government in dealing with the agrarian crisis. While over 250 farmers have died due to suicide or shock following crop failures, the State Government has announced a compensation of Rs 3lakhs to 17 farmers who have been ‘officially’ declared as having committed suicide and Rs 5465 per acre for the crop failure in the State to a total of Rs 2247 crores. However, this is too little and is unlikely to cover a large section of marginal farmers due to various structural impediments.
One such example is Veeramani, a 30 year old Arundathiyar young man, who had taken loans of over Rs 50000 from private Micro Finance Corporations to lease 1.5 acre of land and farm for the first time in Kadamakudi of Keel Velur Taluk, Nagai District. The Delta has relied on water from Cauvery and has faced severe water shortage due the failure of monsoon and lack of water flow from Cauvery. As the crops dried and withered, the young farmer died in the field leaving a wife and 2 young children. With no insurance and no written contract, the chance of Veeramani’s family being covered under either the ex gratia relief or the crop failure compensation is next to nil.
The Central Government has announced an increase of NREGA family work days for the current financial year from 100 to 150 for Tamil Nadu. However, the order having come in late February, will not be effective as the year closes in March. Comrade Nehru, Kanchipuram district secretary of the union, demanded that the mandate be carried forward to the next financial year. . Also, he says that the NREGA job is allocated by grouping the workers in a village into several groups and providing work only for one group in a week. This, he says, would reduce the number of days of work in a month. Farmers and agricultural labourers have also not been paid since November, thus negating any relief that such efforts can bring to the rural communities.
Farmers’ crisis is very much connected to other services provided in the country and the dismantling of PDS came to severe criticism among the Irula tribals who had assembled in Tiruporur for the protest. Comrade Mari explained how PDS popularly known as ration shop is being dismantled through cash subsidies. His point on the reduction of rice supplemented with a meagre supply of wheat was vehemently supported by the Irula women.
As Kanchipuram is facing severe drought, drinking water supply was another major issue raised by the union representatives. He said that urban areas such as Uthiramerur and Kanchipuram are receiving drinking water every few days. He decried the extraction of water near Palaru river for Rail Neer bottling plant in Paalur and Pepsi plant in Mamandur. He asked that these companies be closed and equitable drinking water is supplied to the people. He also demanded desilting of nearly 2000 lakes and ponds in Kanchipuram district and construction of a check dams across Palaru for sustainable water management.
Comrade Shanmugam, State representative of Tamil Nadu Farmers Union listed the following demands for the protest.
- Central Government should provide full drought relief of over 38000 Crore Rupees as claimed by Tamil Nadu Government and release Rs 1000 crores for immediate relief
- Enhance drought relief to minimum 15000 Rs per acre and remove the ceiling of 5 acres of land on relief.
- Provide relief of Rs 10000 per famility to landless agricultural labourers
- Provide full quantum of rice (20Kilos) through PDS and also provide pulses through PDS (there are wide spread claims that PDS shops are not supplying pulses and has reduced Rice to 10 kilos and 5 kilos of wheat)
- Provide NREGS job cards immediately and increase as announced work day to 150 as per the act as the state is drought affected (presently just 40 days is being provided under the scheme)
- Regulate micro finance institution and save farmers from vicious debt trap.
The protesters were arrested in Tiruporur and in other places and detained for a day.
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