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`Flood prevention strategy, an urgent need in delta'

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, NOV. 24. Heavy rain and inundation of paddy fields in the delta districts are nothing new. But waterlogging and submergence of the standing crop for long periods, as seen this year, are cause for concern. Poor drainage, coupled with the lack of proper maintenance of the irrigation canal systems, appears to have contributed to this crisis.

Though fewer cyclones crossed the Tamil Nadu coast in the past decade, floods caused by persistent rain have been frequent. Floods ravaged the standing crop in parts of the delta in 1979, 1983, 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2001 before the recent large-scale inundation of fields, particularly in Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur districts.

According to S. Ranganathan, Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association general secretary, "It is only the coastal and tail-end regions that are normally affected by floods and consequent crop loss. During times of poor flow in the rivers, it is again the tail-end belts, which suffer without canal water. Thus, the tail-end and coastal belts suffer frequent crop failure."

Regular ravage

Going by experience, about two lakh acres is exposed to the ravages of monsoon regularly, making a strong case for evolving an exclusive strategy for this belt. It should look at crop selection and pattern, timing of sowing and transplantation, specialised and improved drainage to remove excess water during floods and an insurance scheme for the flood/drought-prone areas, Mr. Ranganathan explains.

The vulnerable coastal belt extends from Kalpakkam and Marakkanam in Kancheepuram district to Muthupet in Tiruvarur district, covering Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Chidambaram, Kollidam, Sirkazhi, Karaikal, Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam.

Farmers in Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur districts have complained about the adverse effect of the mushrooming prawn culture and unauthorised encroachments along drainage canals. These have been reduced to channels of just 10-foot width and cannot carry heavy floodwater. "Prawn and paddy cannot and should not co-exist," reasons Mr. Ranganathan.

Serious problem

But the more serious problem for the Government and its departments is in maintenance and cleaning up of the canals and the entire irrigation network. It is high time the Public Works Department undertook a field study in every revenue village along the coast to identify the vulnerable areas. "Kudimaramuthu" is not being taken up to ensure proper drainage. It has been suggested that self-help groups be formed to assist farmers and to involve themselves in the upkeep and improvement of the irrigation systems.

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