The farmers in the Cauvery Delta region woke up to some good news on Sunday.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi K Palaniswami announced seven districts in Cauvery delta — Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ariyalur, Trichy and Karur — as ‘Protected Agricultural Zone’.
The significance of the announcement from the Chief Minister lies in the claim that it will prevent the implementation of projects deleterious to agriculture or farmers in the region. It also comes at a time when the farmers in the delta have been constantly agitating against permission granted to oil and natural gas companies to undertake hydrocarbon exploration projects in the region.
What farmers can expect
Cauvery delta is the rice bowl of the state and the region also accounts for the production of various pulses, vegetables and fruits during the off-season.
Protected Agricultural Zone aims to safeguard this region from practices and projects that are exploitative to the farmers in that region as well as to provide a fillip to cultivation and farm-based activities.
Speaking to TNM, R Gopinath, a senior scientist at MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, says that the aim is to replicate the model of Special Economic Zone (area with unique economic regulations) to boost agriculture and related practices in the region in the delta region.
It means that apart from agriculture and activities related to cultivation, the region is closed for other activities, including the proposed hydrocarbon projects.
It must be noted that one of the main concerns that the farmers have been raising is that the hydrocarbon exploration will dry the land out and leave it barren forever, thus, in turn, impacting their livelihood.
Welcoming the move, Gopinath adds, “The government should also ensure that they make agriculture an economically viable occupation for the farmers. This will ensure food security in the future and more farmers will be encouraged to cultivate crops.”
Incidentally, the Kerala government introduced a similar measure — the Special Agricultural Zone (SAZ) — in 2017-2018. This designates the agricultural land exclusively for agricultural purpose. Regions such as Kuttanad, Palakkad, Wayanad, Thrissur and Kozhikode were designated as SAZ for various crops. Similarly, the Indira Gandhi Canal in Rajasthan provided irrigation facilities and transformed the barren deserts of Jaisalmer and Barmer districts into agricultural, fertile lands.
Guidelines to be framed soon
A senior officer from the Tamil Nadu Department of Agriculture tells TNM that the guidelines are expected to be framed soon.
“Since the announcement has just been made, we will soon examine the issue and frame guidelines accordingly. We hope to address all the issues and provide clear direction,” says the officer.
Gopinath, meanwhile, points out that while framing guidelines, it would prove productive to involve agriculture researchers, farmers and activists in the process so that the government is appraised of all possible issues and address them at the early stage itself.
Meanwhile, the state government, on Monday, told the media that it is expecting a favourable response from the Centre in a few days.
Speaking to reporters from New Delhi after meeting central ministers and submitting a letter regarding the Protected Agricultural Zone, D Jayakumar, Tamil Nadu Minister for Fisheries, said that since the Chief Minister himself made the announcement, this is a policy decision of the government. “I cannot reveal what was spoken in the meeting. We will get a good decision in four days,” he said.