Thiruvarur, the constituency where DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi was the sitting MLA at the time of his death, is gearing up for the bye-elections. The granary of the state, Thiruvarur was represented by Karunanidhi for close to seven years before his death, but the woes of farmers in the constituency are many.
“We are planning to boycott the polls this time,” says Thavasumuthu, a farmer in Kekkarai, Thiruvarur.
“Kekkarai has around 400 families whose survival depends on agriculture and 600 acres of farmland. This expanse of land is irrigated by just one canal, which is supposed to bring water from the Odampokkiyaaru river. For the past 15 years, we have been fighting tooth and nail to draw the attention of the authorities towards the canal, which has not been maintained at all. Now it is filled with silt, aquatic plants and garbage too, which is hindering the flow of water. Nobody has even done basic desilting in the canal," he says.
The canal is the only source of water to irrigate 600 acres of agricultural land in Kekkarai, which is otherwise arid. Farmers can’t fit a motor to ensure that their fields are irrigated as electricity is erratic.”We don’t know how long it will take for a normal application to be processed so we can get pump sets. Tatkal charges for a new connection start at Rs 2.5 lakh per connection. How can we even afford that?" he asks.
He points out that if the canal is de-silted, rainfall received on one day is sufficient for Kekkarai’s farmers to irrigate their lands for a week.
The situation is similar across the constituency. Varadharajan, the State Joint Secretary of the Thamizhaga Cauvery Vivasayigal Sangam tells TNM that historically, Thiruvarur has been a region where farmers have been protesting over water. “Back then, the protests were demanding water for fields. Of late, farmers have been protesting to protect their agricultural land itself. The hydrocarbon projects in this region have created panic among them," he says.
The process to build a hydrocarbon well in a field involves pumping out all the groundwater in and around that area. This leads to the land drying up, and it becomes unfit for farming. It also reduces the monetary value of the land in case the farmer wants to sell it. Toxic chemicals are also released as a byproduct of the project.
An abandoned hydrocarbon exploratory well
Thiruvarur is an important district in the Cauvery delta region. The main crop in the region is paddy and is widely cultivated. Agriculture in this region is largely dependent on the water from the Cauvery river, which has been erratic due to the river-water sharing dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Supreme Court verdict too hasn’t entirely addressed the woes of Thiruvarur.
"The district has around 1,200 water bodies. Reclaiming them and maintaining them properly itself will ensure that we do not have to depend on the Cauvery river or the rains for the crops. Though hundreds of crores are being allocated for the Kudimaramathu scheme, there is no visible improvement. There has always been a shortage of water for agriculture, but we have never faced problems of drinking water scarcity. It is all changing now," says Varadharajan.
Another issue that plagues the agricultural sector in the town is the lack of alternate employment opportunities. There is no means for farmers in Thiruvarur to earn money apart from selling their produce. If crops fail, then their survival becomes difficult. The demand to set up industries which require agricultural produce as inputs has been a long-standing one in the constituency.
The people of Thiruvarur have a soft corner towards their former legislator Karunanidhi. The former Chief Minister was a two-time MLA from the constituency, and his journey began and ended in Thiruvarur. He was the sitting MLA of Thiruvarur at the time of his death in August 2018.
Deivasigamani, a retired PWD engineer and farmer says that it was due to Karunanidhi's efforts that the town got its own medical college. “Until then, we had to go to Thanjavur for major health issues. It is solely because of Kalaignar that we got our own medical college in Thiruvarur. Also, the Central University of Tamil Nadu was also a gift to the town from Kalaignar. Who would have thought we would get such a good university in this town?”
However, not everybody feels the same way about Karunanidhi’s tenure. “He did a few good things for Thiruvarur, but I personally feel he could have done much more. For example, the Ring Road project outside Thiruvarur town was a project that was launched during DMK's rule in Tamil Nadu. Land acquisition has been completed, but landowners have not yet been paid. The project now is not stalled,” Varadharajan says.
Kekkarai farmer Thavasumuthu, however, is only weighing his current options. While he says Modi government’s scheme is good, he is not kind. Referring to the farmer assistance scheme of providing Rs 6,000, he says, “What exactly can a farmer do with Rs 6,000 a year?”
Taking the example of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for its farmer-friendly welfare schemes, he wants the state government to work for the farmers in the delta region.
Varadharajan also echoes this sentiment of the present government being inadequate when it comes to the plight of the farmers.
“Recently, the state government announced districts which are drought-hit. Thanjavur and Nagapattinam were on the list, while Thiruvarur wasn’t. How is it geographically possible that the two districts which surrounding Thiruvarur are arid and Thiruvarur isn't?”
Only two parties have come to power in Thiruvarur — the DMK and the CPI. Could the winds change this time around?
AMMK functionary Siva Rajamanickam tells TNM that the party' s candidate S Kamaraj, who is also the Thiruvarur District Secretary of the party, will surely win the polls. “People here know that Kamaraj is a good man. He had a clean record and he is not a new entry in the region," he says. S Kamaraj had contested on an AIADMK ticket in the 2016 Assembly elections from Mannargudi and lost to DMK's TRB Raaja.
Meanwhile, Varadharajan says that money has become a major deciding factor in the elections in recent times. "Irrespective of party lines, all of them pay cash to voters. Hence all this contempt against parties for unfulfilled promises may be forgotten in the last three days due to cash. So all these complaints don't really matter," he says.
This sentiment is echoed by Vetrivel, who runs a tea shop near the bus stand. "That is indeed the mood now. People look for who pays the most and then go and cast their votes. When the parties pay to bring an audience to their public meeting, they will pay much more for votes. This has been happening for at least the last two elections as far as I remember," he says.
There is one section of Thiruvarur which is not happy with DMK candidate Poondi Kalaivanan. Maari*, a mechanic and a traditional DMK supporter, says that he might vote for someone else this time since he does not like Kalaivanan personally. "I have heard stories about him. Hence I would rather vote for a candidate with a cleaner criminal record," he says. Women in the house and old people may go with the symbols rather than looking at each candidate as an individual, he says.
But the DMK hasn’t been forgotten. Rajamma, a flower-seller near the famed Thyagaraja temple in Thiruvarur pledges her vote to DMK, stating that it would be an honour to her 'Kalaignar ayya'.