A lover of flowers, Jayalalithaa was keen on developing floriculture in her estate.

Ammas love for agriculture and the man she trusted the gardens in her estate with
news Jayalalithaa Friday, December 09, 2016 - 14:56
Written by  Amutha Kannan

It was 1992 when a professor from the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore, was deputed to travel to Hyderabad. He was given an air ticket, escorted from the airport to his destination. As he entered the house, he was met by a woman with an aarti plate and prasadam. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa asked the evidently nervous professor to take the prasadam from her hands before they could get down to the matter at hand.  

She shared her angst over the damaged 9.6 acres of agricultural land that used to be a fruitfully yielding vineyard and asked him if it would be possible to revive it. It was already late in the day, but since she was very keen the professor reached the farm and took soil samples with the help of a torch light. He went back to the university and after three days gave her an analysis that the land was fit to be used as a vineyard, or to grow flowers or bananas. 

Within four days of receiving the report, she approved the planting of bananas. The time was fixed on a day between 4.30 and 5.30 a.m. and the professor was asked to be present to oversee the planting. Ten months later, when he gave her a cheque after harvest, she was visibly happy as she said "This is the first time I am getting a cheque for this land. So long I have only been issuing cheques. Now I realise agriculture is also profitable". 

The professor– K Ramasamy– is today the Vice-Chancellor of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), and could easily be the only non-political person in Coimbatore who has remained associated with her for such a long time. "Childlike" is how he describes Amma, after a 24-year long association with the late CM Jayalalithaa. 

He later went on to re-establish the old Danish tea factory that was part of her Kodanad estate. Today it is state-of-the-art, and the quality of tea was a matter of extreme pride to Jayalalithaa.

A lover of flowers, she was keen on developing floriculture in her estate. K Ramasamy, fondly known as KR in academic circles, was again called, and he helped develop a garden. "The best flowers in this region come from her garden. Lilium (lily) is very popular among the local florists as well as exporters". 

Though her love for flowers was a given, her choice of colour kept changing. She would be very eager to learn about the various species of flowers. In 2009, when a cyclone ravaged her farm in Siruthavur in Kancheepuram district and damaged the teak trees, KR stepped in and "in 15 days we could see fresh leaves on the teak trees". When Jayalalithaa visited, she couldn’t but exclaim "science works here". 

KR was her trusted agricultural expert, not only for her personal holdings, but for the whole State as well. He had always been in her scheme of things for the State, working closely with the Agriculture Department, various Secretaries, and in the capacity of agriculture member in the erstwhile State Planning Commission.

The Vice-Chancellor says that there has not been a single instance when Jayalalithaa turned down an agriculture-related or farmer-related scheme. "All the packages were approved by her. Sometimes when we visited the Cauvery Delta it used to look so green, while at other times it used to look barren. This used to worry her and she used to ask "is there no possibility to improve this area?"

He recounts all the presentations and the resultant outcomes that have turned into a win-win situation for the State in increasing the farm productivity and also improving the livelihood of farmers. 

He says that she wanted to improve the ilk of the 81 lakh small farmers in Tamil Nadu. While providing them with a plethora of subsidies and freebies, she also wanted them to work hard to put all these to good use. "But there is no willingness to work hard or the mindset to accept these changes. That is what led to the labour problem and in many cases labour from the North and North East had to be used". 

He points out proudly how the Government was able to attract IT professionals to intensive and protect agriculture while improving traditional practices for the conventional farmers. 

From a single State-run agriculture university, Tamil Nadu got three agriculture colleges, an all women-horticultural college, a skill development centre, and six centres of excellence, under her leadership. An investment of Rs 380 crore has been made in all these campuses, he says. The applications for the agriculture courses have soared from a mere 4,000 to 45,000.  

"She was very clued up on things. She was a voracious reader and used to read up on agriculture books. She would even get her office to get in touch with the author of some of the books for further clarifications, and also ask us to download relevant material from the Internet," he adds. 

Terming the late CM "very sharp", he smiles when he says that she was a good face reader. She could easily call someone’s bluff and was not too tolerant about inefficiency in work, but was soft-hearted when it came to handling a suffering or damage, be it to a tree or a human being. 

A two-term VC of the only State agricultural university, KR has the credit of being the only hand-picked candidate of the late CM. Rubbishing claims that she discarded people after their use, the VC is keen to point out that Jayalalithaa took care in identifying people and retaining them. 

With two years left of his second term, the VC is keen to take forward Jayalalithaa’s dreams and plans she had for agriculture. "We will see to that her vision of doubling agricultural production and tripling farmer income becomes a reality. The path and the mechanics have been clearly laid out by her. We only have to ensure the precise execution," he says with conviction. 

"Reporter's Diary"

As I prepare to wind up, I could not help but take him back to a date– May 24, 2015, first day of Jayalalithaa in office, a day after her swearing in, after her acquittal in the disproportionate assets' case. It was a Sunday and she was going to office at 3 pm. I run into the VC in a Coimbatore-Chennai morning flight. I remember him casually mentioning that he was going to meet the CM on her first day in office.

I ask him now as to why did he go to Chennai that day? Was he invited? "Do you need an invitation to go and wish a person you like very much?"