Thursday, September 20, 2007

Un-ploughed lies my land

Want to fill in your paddy fields in Kerala, or leave them uncultivated? You can. Only problem is that you may be put behind the bars for 1-3 years and slapped with a fine of Rs.50,000 to Rs.100,000. That is what a new law on the anvil provides for, according to the newspaper reports. The idea is to prevent the increasing tendency in the State to reclaim rice growing areas for other purposes or leave them unutilized.

No ‘Capitalist’ worth his name would leave an asset non-operative if he can make money out of it. Even nationalized banks (a hang up from ‘socialistic pattern of society’ days) are trying to reduce their non-performing assets (NPA). Why should the Kerala muthalalis (landowning or business magnates) ignore their lands? One reason is sheer capitalistic outlook – there is no money in it. But there is a more valid ground to which the politicians turn a Nelson’s eye.

Even if a fool of a muthalai decides to cultivate his fields incurring loss, out of patriotism or whatever, he still has a problem. There is an acute shortage of workmen. Offering exorbitant wages do not attract labor anymore; very few like to work on land, particularly the rice fields. In major paddy growing areas of Kerala, like Kuttanad and Palakkad, workers and agricultural machinery (for years the left parties fought the introduction of tractors) are imported from neighboring Tamil Nadu. That is likely to stop too because the wages in that State have gone up recently.

By law, a muthalali, or anyone for that matter, can hold only 12 acres of paddy/coconut lands in Kerala – a great comedown from 1000+ acres. Weeds grow in the rice fields which were once the pride of a muthalali. Coconut cultivation is almost on its death bed because of low productivity and uneconomic prices.

After staying a couple days at my cousin, John Tharakan’s home stay (, Peter Wonacott wrote about the problems of coconut growers in Kerala in The Wall Street Journal
(March 10, 2007; Page P5). The title of the article is ‘India's Nuttiest Destination’- meaning coconuts of course!

In the last picture what you see in the foreground is tall grass not rice plants.


All photos copyright Karthiki, TP. Click on them for enlarged view.

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