Accusing the government machinery of maintaining stoic silence over large-scale water theft, a large number of farmers, affiliated to various associations, have come together to demand an immediate end to alleged water theft from Periyar river.
The farmers in the Cumbum valley alleged that a group of individuals was stealing water from the river, and that the theft was continuing with the 'blessings' of an influential politician in the district.
Representatives of the farmers' associations said they had provided evidence of the destruction of public property like roads and irrigation canals for laying pipelines to steal water from the river to the Public Works Department, Tangedco and the police. Despite the submission of proof, no action had been taken, they said.
Ponnupillai, of the Kottur Water Users' Association, said the theft of about 200 cusecs of water from Periyar river was preventing cultivation in the ayacuts of the Cumbum valley.
Tharvesh Mohideen, of the Uthamapalayam Water Users' Association, said that only 14,700 acres of ayacut in the Cumbum valley and 45,000 acres in Madurai district were double-crop. The remaining ayacut areas under the Periyar-Vaigai irrigation scheme were single-crop. The growing need to draw drinking water from the Periyar and successive monsoon failures and droughts had already reduced the quantum of water supplied to the ayacut areas of the Periyar-Vaigai scheme, he said.
The increasing theft of river water and overexploitation of groundwater from the ayacut areas significantly impacted the livelihood of the traditional ayacut farmers under the Periyar-Vaigai irrigation scheme, he added.
Members of the Chinnamannur Water Users' Association, led by A. Nallayamperumal, said the shortage of water was noticed by the State government almost four decades ago, and a World Bank-funded scheme was implemented in the mid-70s at a cost of USD 45.6 million to line the canals of the Periyar-Vaigai irrigation system to prevent seepage and operational losses.
The PWD did not follow the rules as specified in the relevant G.O., and hence, the livelihood of the ayacut farmers was dependent on the whims and fancies of the engineers, the farmers alleged.
'Review all connections'
The water management practices of the PWD and the actions of some Tangedco personnel in providing free agricultural services, in violation of the rules in the last 10 years (in direct proportion to the increased theft of water), were severely affecting the ayacut farmers of the Cumbum valley and Madurai and Sivaganga districts, said O. Narayanan, of the Cumbum Water Users' Association.
A review of all the free agricultural services provided over the last 10 years near Periyar river or in the nanjai lands of the Cumbum valley should be carried out by an external agency, as the local Tangedco authorities were largely responsible for the irregularities, the farmers said. They also sought the installation of meters on all services.
Expressing the hope that the government would deal with the issue with an iron hand, the farmers said that if not, they will take the legal route.
A PWD official said they were in the process of giving permission to the farmers who were drawing water for irrigation through pipes. Denying any large-scale water theft, the official clarified that they were conducting raids and seizing motors.
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