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Drought triggers TN House boycott

Chennai, Jan. 23: All Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu barring the BJP today boycotted the Governor’s address on the opening day of the first Assembly session this year in protest against the ADMK regime’s handling of the acute drought in the state.

The parties also blamed the Jayalalithaa government for the continuing hunger deaths and suicides by distressed farmers in the Cauvery delta areas.

As Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao was about to deliver his customary address, Opposition leaders led by the DMK’s K. Anbazhagan, criticised the government for its “improper and belligerent approach” to the Cauvery waters issue, particularly after the monsoons had failed, and how it had affected farmers. The “free meal scheme” was also dubbed as “humiliating” for farmers.

The Congress, the PMK, the CPI and the CPM made a fervent plea to declare the state drought-hit. They demanded that farmers be compensated at the rate of Rs 5,000 per acre, distribution of rice to affected families (one kg of rice and Rs 25 in cash per family per day) in lieu of the free meals scheme and a food-for-work programme to be supervised by an all-party monitoring committee.

Left leaders J. Hemachandran of the CPM and G. Palanichamy of the CPI said the number of farmer deaths in the Cauvery delta had gone up to 12. Palanichamy also criticised the “police excess” in entering the house of CPI MLA Sivapunniyam following the suicide by Shanmugham, a small farmer in Tiruvarur district, to ferret out the suicide note.

Congress leader S.R. Balasubramoniyan called for immediate steps to restrain Kerala from constructing a check dam across the Bhavani River, as it would affect the flow of water to Tamil Nadu.

MLAs of the P. Chidambaram-headed Congress, and the leader of the Dalit Panthers of India, R. Thirumavalan, also joined the boycott.

Ramamohan Rao, who went ahead with his address, announced that the government has decided to declare all the 28 districts in the state except Chennai drought-affected. Stating that Tamil Nadu was experiencing one of the “worst droughts in its history”, he said Jayalalithaa had impressed upon the Centre the need for a Rs 400-crore relief package and a compensation of Rs 5,000 per acre to farmers who have lost their crop.

Jayalalithaa has also sought a debt relief package from the Centre which involves waiver of the principal amount for cultivators in the delta region and two lakh tonnes of rice for the mid-day meal programme for farmers, agriculture labourers and their families, the Governor said.

Emphasising that the government believed in “good governance practices” and in the unlimited possibilities of information technology to provide clean and transparent administration, Ramamohan Rao announced that a “New Right to Information Bill” was in the offing to institutionalise open and participatory administration.

However, after the address in English, which gave a clean chit to the government on most fronts, including curbing of terrorism, the Tamil translation of the speech was not read out.

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