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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 18:15 GMT
Indian farmers get free meals
Karnataka rice fields
Traditionally lush paddy fields have been left without water

Farmers in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are getting free meals following the worst drought in two decades.

The move follows a crisis caused by water shortages affecting crops in the state, and has been worsened by a dispute over water sharing with neighbouring Karnataka.

Map
Karnataka has now agreed to release more water from the River Cauvery to Tamil Nadu for a week from today to help it over the crisis.

But farmers say that the water to be released by Karnataka is too little too late. Already, they have lost short-term crops and now the long- term crop is withering for want of water.

Losses

The Madras High Court came down heavily on the state government, saying it had a duty of care to prevent such starvation deaths and called for a detailed report on the situation.

The state government, already in a financial crisis, has started providing free meals to the farmers.

Karnataka itself is facing acute shortages and has been refusing to release water to Tamil Nadu - despite being told to do so by the Supreme Court and the Cauvery River Authority - a body with statutory powers.

Two farmers in the Cauvery Delta area committed suicide recently as they were unable to bear the debts which resulted from failing crops.

Criticism

Opposition parties accuse the Karnataka government of not acting quickly enough to prevent the losses.

The traditional southern India harvest festival of Pongal was celebrated on Wednesday without the usual gaiety and enthusiasm by the distressed farmers.

Thousands of farmers in 28 districts were given festival rice in 26,000 lunch centres today.

The exact number of farmers who benefit by this scheme is not yet known - but it is estimated about 100,000 farmers might avail themselves.

See also:

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