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CIMA Gallary

Villagers return Pongal gift in freebie land

- 600 families want Jaya govt to redistribute the cash among drought-hit in Cauvery delta

Chennai, Jan. 13: About 600 families near Coimbatore have done the unthinkable in a state known for freebie politics.

They have decided to return to the state government the Rs 100 given to each household as a Pongal gift, so that the money can be distributed among distressed farmers in the drought-hit Cauvery delta.

About a dozen families from Pillayarpuram, about 490km from here, had succeeded in sending the money back on Saturday before the post office counters closed at 12.30pm. The rest have been asked to return on Tuesday to send their money orders to the government.

In a state where political parties compete to promise freebies from food to TV sets before elections, political observers hoped that the gesture by these villagers — mostly day labourers living in hutments on government land —would knock some sense into a condescending administration.

“It’s a bold and sensible move by ordinary folks who themselves eke out a daily living,” said C. Masilamani, a member of the state CPI’s farm wing.

The Jayalalithaa government had announced a Pongal gift pack for each of the state’s 1.84-crore ration card-holding households. The packs consisted of 1kg of rice worth Rs 20, 1kg of sugar worth Rs 40, and Rs 100 in cash.

While most cardholders happily collected the cash and the provisions, Pillayarpuram residents unanimously decided to send the money back to the chief minister’s relief fund with instructions on how it was to be used.

On Saturday, they went to the nearest post office and filled in money order forms with the message: “Give adequate relief to delta farmers and stop farmers’ suicide.”

“We will be back on Tuesday with the same 100-rupee note that came with the Pongal packets and send it back to the relief fund,” said Arunkumar, a house painter.

“We cannot remain silent spectators when the lives of farmers, who feed us, hang in the balance. So, on the night before collecting our Pongal packets, we took this joint decision.”

The Cauvery delta is known as the state’s rice bowl but the failure of the southwest and northeast monsoons and inadequate release of Cauvery waters by Karnataka have left more than 12 lakh hectares across seven of its districts without the prospect of a harvest.

Jayalalithaa had announced relief measures and sent her ministers to hear the farmers’ grievances after at least three farmers committed suicide. At the same time, she also announced the Rs 100 Pongal gift, unmindful that this would only increase the economic burden on the state, which needs to spend more on procuring grains in the coming months.

Now Pillayarpuram has sent out a clear message to the chief minister that her government has its priorities mixed up.

“We hope that many others do the same, goading the state government into reaching out to the farmers rather than waste money on freebies,” Masilamani, the CPI member, said.