The Madhanam tank off Trichy-Ariyalur main road is brimming with water— it is a heartening sight for locals after three decades. Over the years, due to heavy silt, the Peruvalai feeder channel that brings water to the tank from river Cauvery had become almost invisible. But, thanks to Kudimaramath, Tamil Nadu's ambitious project to restore water bodies with people’s participation, the community hopes to irrigate some 208 hectares of ayacut in the region without depending much on deep borewells in the otherwise dry area.
While opposition brands it a scam, Kudimaramath, has come as a relief, especially at a time when Tamil Nadu is battling droughts and legal battles for water with its neighbours.
It all started in May. As part of the scheme, ‘ayacutdars’ (local farmers), living in the vicinity of defunct tanks were identified by the public works department that was looking for nominees to carry out the restoration. Among the water users in the area one farmer was chosen as a nominee and the schedule was laid out — the 1.8 km long Peruvalai feeder channel would be desilted first and later the tank bund strengthened after silt was removed from the bed. The cost worked out to ₹14.47 lakh and the chosen ayacutdar removed 19,723 cubic metres silt using machinery. The 48.5 acre tank is today a rich source for 10 water-starved villages in Lalgudi taluk after the recent spell of rain.
Poovalur former president K Ashokraj said, “We have enough water to irrigate our paddy and sugarcane crops for two more months. Our neighbours from Vellanur, Irudhayapuram and Alampakkam are also being benefitted by the tank.” The level of groundwater table that had dropped due to heavy use of borewells, is recharging now, with officials estimating 65,100 cubic feet of available water in the tank.
Far away, a feeder channel of Paganur tank near Srirangam got a facelift due to the contribution of farmers. A damaged sluice has also been repaired. “The tank should be desilted immediately,” Y Arockiasamy, of Yagappa Udaiyanpatti said. Paganur, Suriyur Big Tank, Ootathur, Veeramachanpatti, Serkudi and Soorampatti tanks in Ariyar division may soon be restored too.
In ancient times, Kudimaramath, the maintenance of water bodies, was carried out by the public. The system was widely practiced with farmers taking charge of construction, repair of the revival of this system, the state government sanctioned ₹100 crore during the last fiscal. About 10% of the estimated cost of the work is being borne by the user association or ayacutdars, in the form of labour, material or cash.
“With 1,513 projects being completed in the first phase, the storage in these tanks increased due to excavation of earth from the bed and strengthening of the tank bund. The supply channels are being cleared of debris and free flow of water is being ensured for efficient irrigation. We will launch our second phase soon,” said PWD, water resources department, engineer-in-chief, M Bakthavathsalam. The second phase covers 2,065 tanks.
There is an imperative need for restoration of water bodies in the state. A study conducted by several central and state government agencies and Central Water Commission in 2013 on effective utilisation of northeast monsoon, said the deficit in total water demand (domestic, irrigation, livestock and industrial needs) would rise to 17% by 2045 from the existing 11%.
The developments help to prevent flooding of adjoining parcels of land during rain, but the opposition to the initiative is far from happy. While chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has been taking credit for rolling out the scheme, DMK alleges corrupt practices and seeks a white paper on Kudimaramath.