News Excerpt
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister recently introduced a Bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking to declare the Cauvery delta region a Protected Special Agriculture Zone (PSAZ).

●    The Cauvery Delta region is considered to be the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. It also accounts for a large part of the production of food-grain and other agricultural produce in the state.
●    Cauvery Delta Zone (CDZ) lies in the eastern part of Tamil Nadu. It is bounded by the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Palk strait on the south.
●    The decision comes after a sustained protest was waged by farmers, youth, political and civil society organizations, as the farmers were facing severe issues due to continuous oil spillages, water, air and soil pollution.

⮚    The bill is proposed to protect agriculture and prohibit certain activities in the region as non-farming activities are adversely affecting agriculture and threatening state’s food security.
⮚    The proposed agriculture zone, as per the bill, includes Thanjavur, Thirvarur, Nagapattinam and five blocks in Cuddalore and Pudukottai.
⮚    The bill fails to include Tiruchirappalli, Ariyalur and Karur which are geographically included in the Cauvery Delta.
⮚    Zinc smelter, iron ore process plants, copper smelter, aluminium smelter tannery and ship breaking industries are prohibited in the agriculture zone as it will affect agriculture developments in the region.
⮚    Any ongoing projects would not be disturbed. Infrastructure development projects like port development, laying of pipelines, road, telecommunication lines, power and water supply facilities will not be banned.  
⮚    The bill seeks to establish a 30-member Protected Agricultural Zone Authority headed by the Chief Minister to advise the Government on protecting and improving agricultural activities in the region.   

    The PSAZ, that the government created recently, is meant to offer farmers of the delta region relief from further hydrocarbon exploration. However, the move which is being received with enthusiasm has raised a few questions as well. The exclusion of certain areas of the districts, the state government’s decision to stop any further exploration process and the single licensing policy for exploring all forms of hydrocarbon as per the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) which grants the companies the permission to explore the presence of all types of hydrocarbons in the region have raised suspicions over the positive outcomes of the announcement.  
    Notwithstanding the government’s “protective measure” for the Cauvery delta, it is common knowledge that the region is at a crossroads. Recurring problems over water availability, shrinking farm labour, growing presence of ageing farmers, changes in cultivation methods and lack of remunerative prices are looming large over the farm sector. Under such circumstances, questions do arise among experts and farmers as to whether it is advisable to hamper industrialization in the region.
    Land prices will fall- All barren lands should be made fertile before enforcing the Act. The prices of fertile land will fall after the PSAZ Act comes into implementation. It will not help the farmers who wish to sell their land due to poverty or due to personal requirements.

It is a welcome move that the Cauvery Delta is declared as a special protected agriculture zone to ensure the future of our food & ecological security leading to increased productivity in perpetuity. But as the debate continues on merits and demerits of making the Cauvery delta a protected zone, there exists an opinion among geologists that fears or concerns of people over hydrocarbon projects in general can be easily addressed if those in charge of such projects conduct themselves in a transparent manner and reveal salient features of their projects, including technology to be adopted and safety norms to be followed.

Special Economic Zone, Environment Impact Assessment, Shale gas/oil, HELP.

Why is Cauvery Delta Important?
    Spread over 28 lakh acres in 3 districts fully and 5 districts partially & covers all 35 blocks in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts and 24 blocks in Pudukottai, Tiruchi, Karur, Ariyalur and Cuddalore.
    Contributes about one-third of state’s annual rice production- 22.4 lakh tonnes.
    Produces a total of 33.26 lakh tonnes of food-grains.
    Record production of coconut over 1.12 lakh acres, sugarcane over 20,260 acres and banana over 9,880 acres.