• Jayalalitha gives farmers tips on saving water

  • Farmhouses depleting groundwater

  • Jayalalitha gives farmers tips on saving water

    THE TIMES OF INDIA [7th JUNE, 2003]

    CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha has offered a slew of cropping tips to farmers in her parched state to help them earn a steady income while also saving precious water. Jayalalitha, who likes to be called a green chief minister, advised rice growers in the state's water-scarce Cauvery delta region to switch to low water consuming crops like pulses.

    If the advice she dispensed on World Environment Day Thursday is heeded, in a few years the rice bowl of Thanjavur could become a fertile ground for lentils and oils, providing an entirely new kind of environment with water and economy management.

    Tamil Nadu has been fighting with neighbouring Karnataka for five decades for a bigger share of the river Cauvery's waters. Like every other summer, this year too there is no water for the farmers of the lower delta where the Thanjavur region falls.

    Karnataka refuses to release water from its reservoirs on the Cauvery's higher reaches and the 'kuruvai' (summer rice) crop of Tamil farmers is in danger every year. This May-June, Tamil Nadu received only 95 tmc (thousand million cubic) feet of water from the river.

    Jayalalitha also said farmers cultivating 125,000 hectares in the water-scarce Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts should plan for short-term paddy crops. This intensified cropping, she said, would save water.

    She announced the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and her government's agriculture department would help cultivators switch to low water consuming crops like pulses, groundnut, cow pea and gram. She noted that some farmers had already shown the way by beginning to grow maize, sunflower and black gram.

    The chief minister also announced a whopping Rs.200 million allocation to create and maintain some 7,000 farm ponds across Tamil Nadu.

    Jayalalitha also gave away green awards to the district chiefs of Kanyakumari, Puddukottai, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Thiruvannamalai and Vellore for water harvesting schemes, waste management, reduction of industrial pollution and other eco-friendly programmes. The officials also got laptops to help them in their work.

    The event also offered Jayalalitha a chance for self-promotion when she released a book titled "A landmark decision to save Nilgiris by a green chief minister".

    The book, put together by the NGO Save Nilgiris Campaign, describes how in 1996, towards the end of her first term as chief minister, Jayalalitha ordered the halt of a hydropower project planned on the Kallarpallam river in the ecologically fragile Nilgiris hill region.

    The current Jayalalitha government has embarked on a mission to preserve the pristine environment of its lake districts of Kodaikanal and Udhagamandalam (Ooty), both popular holiday resorts. The Ooty and Kodaikanal lakes are being cleaned up with bio-products --natural bacteria that break down polluting scum. The state government is also putting in place 40 aerators that will churn these lakes once every 12 days to prevent stagnation.

    The civic bodies in both regions have been told to ensure that no more sewage, human and industrial waste is allowed to enter these lakes. "Only then can we continue to keep these water bodies clean with bio-cleansers," state environment department director S. Balaji told IANS.

    On environment day, Tamil Nadu also got two new websites --www.environments.tn.nic.in and www.forests.tn.nic.in -- giving information on the government's efforts to protect the environment. And a new geomatic centre for the forest department was opened that will give district-wise maps of Tamil Nadu's forest cover.


    Farmhouses depleting groundwater

    THE TIMES OF INDIA [7th JUNE, 2003]

    NEW DELHI: The massive exploitation of groundwater by farmhouse owners is leading to a sharp fall in the water table in areas where the farms are located. According to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), the water table is falling by up to two metres in such places every year.

    ''In Chattarpur, for instance, the water table is 45 metres below ground level. There's hardly a 15-metre-deep layer of fresh water left in these places,'' said CGWB chairman S S Chauhan.

    Most of the farmhouses are in areas like Bijwasan, Mehrauli, Chattarpur, and Rajokri in south and southwest Delhi, where hardly any sweet groundwater is left. The board estimates that if the exploitation goes on at this pace, the entire area will run out of sweet water in less than a decade.

    ''We are headed towards desertification,'' warned urban designer K T Ravindran.

    Each farmhouse is reported to have several tubewells that keep the sprawling lawns lush green. Groundwater meets all their requirements as the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) does not supply any water to areas on the city periphery like Chattarpur, said DJB member (water) G C Nandwani.

    DJB chief P K Tripathi said: ''Because of the over-exploitation by farmhouses, the water table in Vasant Kunj, which is near the farm area, keeps on falling. So our tubewells keep running dry and we have to drill deeper. The same thing happens in other south Delhi colonies. There is a disruption in the supply.''

    The CGWB is now planning to undertake a survey of the farmhouses. ''Depending on the findings of the survey, we will decide the future course of action,'' said Chauhan. But given the CGWB's track record of acting on its announcements, experts want some concrete steps to be taken immediately. Ravindran said: ''Watering lawns should be immediately banned in farmhouses. Treated waste water that is rich in nutrients can be used for this purpose. Groundwater should be used only for meeting the basic necessities of life by those living in farmhouses,'' he said.

    S Mukherjee of JNU's School of Environmental Sciences said rainwater harvesting was the only way to improve the groundwater situation.

    Tripathi said as long as groundwater was available free of charge, its exploitation is difficult to stop till it dries up. ''The DJB Bill on groundwater that has been cleared by the Centre should be passed as it gives us the power to check exploitation of groundwater and levies a charge on it.''

    Because of the over-exploitation by the farmhouses, the DJB chief added that even harvesting the rain was not showing any difference. ''In several nearby places, people have installed rainwater harvesting systems. But all the water that is harvested, is pumped out out of all proportions and the water table does not improve'' he said.

    The massive exploitation of groundwater over the years has led to a sharp drop in both the quantity and quality of the sub-soil reserve in the city. In a vicious circle, as the water table drops, the concentration of dangerous pollutants like nitrates, fluorides, pesticides, heavy metals and salinity keeps getting concentrated in the remaining water.