HIGHEST EVER: Foodgrain production increased by about 9pc to 273.4 million tonnes –
CHENNAI: As the impact of the worst northeast monsoon in 140 years unfolds across Tamil Nadu, farmers sowed a third less land than they did in 2015-16, water levels in six major reservoirs continued to plunge, and suicides in the farm sector increased over five years.
In the midst of this agrarian turmoil in a state that produced 5.6 per cent of India’s rice in 2014-15, the agriculture ministry has predicted a record national harvest.
The agriculture ministry’s third advance estimate forecast India’s foodgrain production to be the highest ever, increasing by about 9 per cent to 273.4 million tonnes (mt) in the crop year 2016-17 ending June from 251.57 mt in 2015-16.
Tamil Nadu has reported a 29 per cent year-on-year drop in overall crop sowing till February 2, 2017, according to the latest situation report from the agriculture ministry.
The retreating northeast monsoon — usually unnoticed in India owing to the singular importance of the larger southwest monsoon — in 2016 was the worst ever over the last 140 years, according to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) records, since 1876, as IndiaSpend reported in January 2017. Record-keeping began in 1871, but a worse northeast monsoon, which sweeps across Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh, south interior Karnataka and Kerala, between October and December, was recorded in 1876, making 2016 the year of the second-worst monsoon in 145 years.
Water levels in three of six major Tamil Nadu reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission dropped 25-70 per cent between January 5 and May 11, 2017, according to the commission data, even as the average across the six reservoirs was 82 peer cent less than normal for the week ending May 11, 2017. There are no official data on what percentage of Tamil Nadu farms are irrigated using water from the state’s 78 reservoirs.
As the drought — officially declared as such on January 10, 2017 — rolls on, the state government has told the Supreme Court it is not linked to suicides by farmers, a contention disputed by a representative of farmers in New Delhi, where a protest is drawing international attention, as protesters display what they say are the skulls of dead farmers.
Farm suicides not because of drought: State government
The Tamil Nadu government’s claim that only 82 farmers have committed suicide since October 2016 is wrong, P Ayyakannu — one of the representatives of Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi and Tamil Nadu president of Desiya-Thennindhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam (National-South Indian Rivers Interlinking Farmers Association) — told IndiaSpend.
He claimed that over 400 farmers had killed themselves because of reasons attributable to the drought and police reports about these suicides had been filed. IndiaSpend could not independently verify this claim.