Rock, Rock And No Water In God's Own Country

Kochi, March 24 | Updated: Mar 25 2004, 05:30am hrs
"Here is no water but only rock, rock and no water and the sandy road." TS Eliot's imagery could mix well with the present day parched Kerala where even March is as cruelest a month as April. Six suicide deaths by farmers in one district alone in a month. Two deaths due to sunstroke, so far unheard of in this part of the land. Raging forest fires. Rivers going dry. Long queues awaiting the arrival of water tanker lorries. This is the image of no other land but Kerala, the land with 51 rivers, blessed twice with monsoons a year.

But six farmers unable to bear the burden of debt owing to the drought that has engulfed Kerala and having nothing to reap from their farms have committed suicide in Wayanad district alone in a month.

In Palakkad, the rice bowl of Kerala, it's a rush of images of farmers setting afire their fields where the mercury zooming days have withered. Chief Minister AK Antony has been rushing to these drought-hit districts, 11 of the 14 already under the spell for the second consecutive year. Sobbing people rendering tales of misery and hardship. Mr Antony told the people of Wayanad that he had not realised the gravity of the situation was so much till he got a first hand narration.

According to those engaged in farming, there is expected to be at least a 40 per cent fall in pepper production next year as most of the pepper vines in Wayanad and Palakkad districts have dried. Rubber tapping though put off during summer may not get the same yield as the hotter days ahead may affect the production in the coming months. In the case of other crops like cardamom and other spices and coconut, the yield is expected to come down further by at least 35 per cent. Agro-based industries would be the first to face the brunt of scorching summer.

Industries would have to face both power shortage and water crunch which may even force some of them to shut down operations till monsoons.

As per statistics, there was a 27 per cent deficiency in rainfall received by Kerala 2003. On an average, the state receives 3,018 mm of rain and in 2003 it was just 2,270 mm. In 2001, the rainfall was deficient by 13 per cent and in 2002, the fall was 35 per cent.

Owing to the drought there has been a shortfall of 8.77 million units in daily hydel power generation, according to industrial sources and the loss to the board is estimated to be over Rs 900 crore. With the relaxation of power cut owing to the SSLC examinations, the per day power consumption was expected to be as high as 35-37 million units. Of this only 7-8 million is through hydel generation, forcing the board to go in for costly thermal power. Unless this is subsidised by the government, which is highly unlikely, dark days are ahead for the state.

But the board has a different version. Top board officials told iFEr that the board could tide over the crisis. Foreseeing the drought, the board kept an insurance storage of water to generate 250 million units. It was overdrawing thermal power during off-peak hours at cheap rates and during peak hours was utilising its hydel power.

For the common man and the farmers in the state where the total land under cultivation is around 25 lakh hectares, there is every likelihood of their being burnt out in the crossfire of the ruling and Opposition fronts. The efficiency of any government lies in not just temporarily tackling calamities and disasters but finding permanent solutions, beyond lip service and staying loan recovery by another six months which would not be sufficient time for the next crop, nothing concrete is being done to tide outlive the crisis. A long-term strategy for water management in a state that has over 55,000 cubic metres of freshwater is lacking. Besides prevention of groundwater exploitation, there have be efforts to check the runoff water flowing into the sea.