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PUCL, July 2003

Fact finding on the onslaught of groundwater
By Sakthi Sugars and Coco Cola Combine in Padamathur in Sivagangai,
Tamilnadu

The onslaught on groundwater by Sakthi Sugars and the Coca Cola
bottling plant in Padamathur village in Sivagangai is creating a situation whereby hundreds of irrigation wells are going dry and thousands of acres of prime agricultural land are turning desert. The onslaught is so severe that, if not stopped, the situation may lead to an agro-ecological disaster and the emergence of a new class of destitutes in the area.

A fact find team consisting members of Tamilnadu legislative assembly
Mr. Nanmaran, Mr. Hemachandran and Mr.C.K. Karunakaran of the
communist party of India (Maxist) along with social activists from the
Campaign for Right to Livelihood and Food Security Tamilnadu, visited Kanoor, Kanakkankudi, Kuttanoor, Rajagambeeram, Madapuram, Thirupachethi, Thirupuvanam and Padamathur Villages. One common
feature in identifying these villages that they are situated within a radius of 7 km from the vaigai riverbed where Sakthi Sugars Coca cola combine have installed two pumping stations for extracting ground water.

Besides interacting with a cross section of people including representatives of farmers organizations, representatives of farmers organizations, elected representatives of Panchayat Raj Institutions and groups of women, the team also saw for itself more than twenty open irrigation wells and three pumping stations that supply dirking water.

Situation changing for the worse

  • Though situated in a rain shadow area, this village cluster, till
    the late seventies, had the greenest vegetation and the most and
    fertile soils in the whole of the undivided Ramanathapuram districts.

  • The area was once known for the cultivation of a variety of irrigated
    and rainfed crops in combination with livestock.

  • This village cluster had also been the primary source of drinking water to more than 80 villages in Sivagangai, Manamadurai and Thirupuvanam unions.

  • This area has also been one of the sources of drinking water to
    pockets of villages in Narikudi block in Virudhunagar district.

But all the above have become the events of the past. The area now is reeling under severe ground water depletion and drinking water scarcity. Though several factors including unseasonal and undependable nature of rainfall, unhindered sand mining are attributed to be the basic reasons for such a sad state of affairs, the primary reason tooks seems to be installation of two pumping stations in the midst of vaigai riverbed that forms part of Kanoor village. These pumping stations draw an average of not less than 10 lakh liters of water per day through landline pipes. Ever since the establishment of the pumping station the ground water table keeps going down at an alarming rate. This is evident from the outburst of the farmers of
the area.

The impact of Sakthi Sugars Coca Cola on irrigation wells·
Maragathampillai of Thirupachethi village who owns six acres of irrigated land and a 50 feet deep open well said that his well which, till two years agro, used to run for twenty four hours, hardly runs for two hours now. Even after installing a 150 feet deep central bore he couldnt strike water. With burrowed money he tried to install bore wells in not less than six different spots in his six acre farm but in vain.

Ramakrishnan a farmer from Kanoor, who owns twenty acres of land
within a distance of 300 meters from the pumping station installed by Sakthi Sugars Coca Cola combine, said that he has invested not less than one lakh rupees for cultivating sugar cane and plantain. The water level during the past months have gone so low that he can hardly water the crop. In total dejection he said he had very little option other than to vanish from the scene or commit suicide. The sudden fall of water table, he said, was neither because of the unseasonal and undependable nature of rainfall or because of illegal sand mining in vaigai riverbed but more because of the unrestricted extraction of groundwater by Sakthi Sugars.

Kaleeswari of the same village, owning four acres of land said that she has a fourty feet deep open well. Water level during the past two decades have been fluctuating but she had never experienced a situation as she witnesses now. The well which used to irrigate all four acres, till two years ago, can hardly irrigate two acres now. She too confirmed that water level in the well started reseeding ever since the installation of pumping stations by Sakthi Sugars. She expressed her plight saying, Sakthi Sugars owes me Rs.6,500/= but doesnt pay any interest. There is no reply from the factory either. But the officials of the cooperative bank have been pestering me to
pay interest for the loan I have taken from them. Sakthi Sugars never cares to tell the co-operative bank that it i! s because of their non payment that I am unable to clear the loan.

Kanakkangudi village is located at a distance of 5 km from Sakthi
Sugarspumping station. Farmers the village presented a list having the name of eight farmers whose wells have gone almost dry since the installation of the pumping stations. The eight wells, the farmers said, which used to irrigate more than forty acres can now irrigate not more than two acres. The young men from the village have started migrating towards unbran centers like Madurai and Thirupur.

Samayapuram, known for the famous Kali temple, is situated at a distance of seven kilometers from Kanoor. The temple well which was the major source of water for thousand of devotees has gone totally dry. Shop keepers around the temple said that the water level has gone down drastically ever since the establishment of the pumping station by Sakthi Sugars inside the Vaigai riverbed in Kanoor.

Impact of Sakthi Sugars pumping station on drinking water schemes·
When this is the immediate effect of the pumping stations on the irrigation wells their impact on drinking water schemes is still worse. The Comprehensive Drinking Water Supply Scheme which is suppose to provide 12 lakh liters of water per day to more than eighty villages and Sivagangai, Manamadurai and Thirupuvanam towns is now supplying only 4 lakh liters.

Same is the case with the Kuttanoor Kootu Kudineer Thittam (Kuttanoor Comprehensive Drinking Water Scheme) in Thirupachethi, located at a distance of 5 km from the pumping station at Kanoor. This scheme is to supply drinking water to nearly 40 villages around Thirupachethi. The caretaker in incharge of operating the water scheme said that pumping has been stopped for the last one month because of the total depletion of ground water.

In Thirupuvanam village located at distance of 7 km from the pumping station at Kanoor a strong group of women said that there is hardly any water available in around their village. Water drawn from the existing hand pumps is unusually soar and when used for cooking the rice turns yellowish. Having no other option, they said, they have to force the children to drink the available water.

Findings

  • Ground water level in Padamathur has been going down ever since the
    establishment of the Sakthi Sugars.

  • The two pumping stations installed by Sakthi Sugars Coca Cola combine in the Vaigai Riverbed in Kanoor village which extracts 10
    12 lakh liters of water per day is the major cause for the unprecedented ground water drought leading to the drying up of
    irrigation wells and drinking water source within the radius of 7 km
    from the pumping station.

  • Unrestricted extraction of ground water by Sakthi Sugars Coca Cola combine is depriving the farmers, women and the general public of their legitimate right on ground water.

  • There is total discontent and anger against the onslaught on water
    by Sakthi Sugars and Coca Cola and this could lead to law and order
    problems.

Demands

  • The Sivagangai district administration should given vent to the feelings of the larger masses and take immediate action to put an end to the unrestricted extraction of ground water for bottling and sale.

  • The Sivagangai district administration should take up on war footing the desilting of tanks under food-for-work programme.

  • Sakthi Sugars should not be allowed to extract more water that what
    has already been permitted. At no point of time should the Sakthi
    Sugars Coca Cola combine should be allowed to pumpout additional
    water for manufacturing beverages.

  • The State Government should comeout with moratorium for a minimum
    period of 10 years banning the entry of money minded profit oriented
    aliens who would commercialize water and land.

  • The State Government should ban commercial enterprises both from
    within and outside the State from extracting ground water for bottling
    and sale.

  • The State Government should comeout with a ground water policy
    that would adhere and accord priority in the order of firstly to drinking water to people, secondly water for agriculture, thirdly for cattle and livestock, fourthly water for social sector and only at the last for industrial and commercial purpose.

 

Campaign for right to livelihood and food security Tamilnadu PACT Secretariat, 5E, Vinayaganagar, Opp. Court Buildings, Madurai
20 Phone : 0452 2651462 E.mail: mdu_chasesec@sancharnet.in

 

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