To attract the attention of the rulers towards their plight, Tamil Nadu farmers protested on the streets of Delhi about three years ago. Those images of farmers holding human skulls and bones in their hands should still be fresh in people’s minds. When the citizens were busy with their daily lives, unaware of the sufferings of the farmers who brought food to us, these food givers adopted many unique methods to attract the media.

Those farmers of the coastal south are not at all afraid of the fact that they do not know Hindi, the local language of Delhi. He filled this gap by adopting new methods of communication. Some of them were very deadly – by pressing dead mice and insects in their jaws, they made it clear that they would only be left to eat, those farmers made their own plate on the road and ate it amidst dust and pebbles. And one day when they felt that they were not having any effect on the Nizam of the country, they ran naked on the road. Apparently, there was an uproar in Raisina Hills. The Delhi Police had no experience in dealing with such protests, it was a very difficult time for him.

In the summer of 2017, more than 106 farmers of Tamil Nadu lost their lives within a month. The worst monsoon in 140 years was attributed to this. The farmers of the state were demanding compensation of Rs 40,000 crore from the central government. A few days ago, E. Palanisamy could announce only a package of Rs 2,250 crore for 32 lakh farmers of the state. These farmers belonged to a particular area, known as the Cauvery Delta. This area has been the granary of Tamil Nadu for centuries. Irrigation of this delta region has been done by Cauvery-water, but this agricultural land is constantly contracting.

Studies by the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies and the Indian Council of Social Science Research show that the area under cultivation in the delta region has already decreased by 20 per cent due to land use and climate change in non-agricultural activities. According to the author of these studies, S. Janakarajan, since 1971, the wastelands of the delta region have seen a 13-fold increase. This is the reason why the Chief Minister of the state, Palanisamy, last week declared the delta region a ‘protected agricultural area’. Palanisamy, who took over as Chief Minister as Sasikala Natarajan’s ‘representative’ after Jayalalithaa’s death, has come a long way since then. Not only has he completed his three-year tenure as chief minister, but he has also strengthened his grip on the party and administration. Now that the assembly elections have been reduced to just one year, it seems that he will lead the AIADMK in the next election,

Palanisamy has declared eight districts as protected. This means that no new hydrocarbon projects will be approved in these districts. Declaring it as a ‘food security zone’, he said that this area needs to be protected, as there was a possibility of sea salt water coming. It has now become an ‘ecologically sensitive agricultural area’.

Formerly the Indira Gandhi Canal Zone of Rajasthan and the wetlands of Kuttanad in Kerala have been declared as Global Agricultural Heritage by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The erstwhile Planning Commission had also announced several ‘agro climatic zones’. Similarly, there are ‘tribal area zones’. But declaring the delta area as a protected area is different in that the state has restricted the permission for any new project that could cause pollution. Citing a 2015 study, the Chief Minister clarified that the cold methane project could make seawater infiltration easier, which would have hurt the agricultural sector.

ONGC and Vedanta Resources won the bid for the discovery of hydrocarbon products in the region. But there has been widespread protest against it for more than a decade. The then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa tried to calm the anger of the people by declaring some studies in this context. Palanisamy also continued the old policy, but the shock of the first parliamentary election and the recent local bodies results probably prompted the Chief Minister to rethink this policy. He made a reference to this in the House before introducing the Bill in the Legislative Assembly.

The opposition initially welcomed the move, but now it has exposed many flaws in the proposed policy. For example, this policy restricts only new projects, while old projects will continue to work. There is no mention of petroleum projects in this. The question is also only about eight districts. After all, why was the entire area not included? However, the farmers have largely welcomed the decision, as they seem to be getting some relief from this decision. There will no longer be any new hydrocarbon projects around their already threatened land. Political parties and analysts have questioned the timing of this decision. He says that Palanisamy has now taken this step to cover up his failures as chief minister.

Whatever the intention of the Chief Minister, but it is a step taken in favor of farmers dependent on river water. There is a need to be extra sensitive about farming as it still provides employment to a large population. Balancing industrialization for agriculture, environmental protection and rapid development has always been a complex issue. The decision Palanisamy has taken in favor of the farming community should be welcomed.


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