Water-stressed in India: In Thanjavur, an outlier in need of conservation measures

The district ranked third in terms of water-conservation works under Jal Shakti Abhiyan  

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 19 March 2020
Farmer at his fish pond built under JSA in Thanjavur's Kumbakonam block. Photo: Shagun Kapil

In seven of the 14 blocks in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur, more than 1,826 water conservation structures and 1,164 billion activities were undertaken under the Union government’s Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA).

The district ranked third among 255 such districts in terms of water-conservation works under JSA.

According to district officials, groundwater level improved by 3.77 metres between July 2019 and October 2019.

Strangely, the district’s Kelathiruvazlapatty village in Budalur block – which receives an average rainfall of 35 millimetres – was not chosen for JSA. 

When the Central Ground Water Board assessed critical, semi-critical, and safe areas in the district in 2017, the firka under which the village fell was labelled ‘safe’. 

Only ‘critical’ areas were selected under JSA for water conservation works, and Kelathiruvazlapatty was left out. Why?

In the last few years, excessive use of borewells for irrigation and cultivating water-intensive crops like sugarcane and paddy led to a decline in groundwater levels. This prompted many farmers to give up agriculture and work in factories.

But things eventually did turn around – as farming reduced, groundwater levels came up again. And that was essentially why the block was left out of JSA ambit.

District- and block- level officials, however, concurred that JSA initiatives would have helped farmers return to farming.

“There are 42 gram panchayats in Budalur block, out of which half are water-stressed and the other half gets water from the Grand Anicut dam. The ones on the southern side are deprived of water,” said G Ramesh, block assistant engineer. 

Officials also noted that works under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) helped the block more than JSA. In the last three years, 54 farm ponds, four check dams and four gabion check dams were constructed.

The need of the hour, officials stressed, are water conservation structures. They cited the case of a 43-year-old Kala Chinnadurai, a farmer who contemplated leaving agriculture last year. However, after a 70-feet-deep dug well was constructed under MGNREGA in his farm, Chinnadurai started sowing paddy twice and sugarcane once a year.

In areas where JSA was implemented, results were for everybody to see. For example, a new check dam built in Thirupurambiam village irrigates more than 100 acres of agricultural land.

Individual fish ponds in Neerathanallur village in Kumbakonam block have enabled farmers to earn better.

Jayaraman Palkirisamy (50) earns Rs 30,000 through fish rearing. He also irrigates his field using the fish pond. Earlier, there were only two community farm ponds in the village.

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