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Sikh Farmers Of Tamil Nadu





Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, India

His white flowing beard reveals betrays his years but hides a sober and shrewd face.

Sardar Manmohan Singh, 65, looks completely at home in Tamil Nadu's Vallandai village as the towering Chandigarh native interviews a 35-year-old with a doctoral degree for a consultant's job.

Sitting at one end of a plastic dining table amid acres of greenery in his Akal Farms, Manmohan Singh shoots pointed questions towards Alaghu Kannan on the far side about the nature of the local soil, weather conditions, farming techniques and horticulture.

The younger man is composed and precise with his answers and finally manages to convince the Sardar to hire him.

"Spending money for specific scientific knowledge is a wise investment," says Manmohan Singh after signing up Kannan, who will visit once a fortnight and offer advice on the expansion of the farms owned by more than a dozen Sikh cultivators who wish to harvest fruits and vegetables on 400 acres in two years' time from the 115 acres now.

Manmohan Singh and 46-year-old Darshan Singh arrived in Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram district in 2007 on the advice of a retired horticulture professor in Himachal Pradesh.

The key reason was that land was very cheap in the backwoods here, with prices as low as Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 an acre.

Friends and relatives in Punjab formed a small group, pooled resources, and began purchasing land here, Darshan Singh said. "We bought 300 acres initially and started developing the land. I sold one acre in Punjab and bought 20 acres here."

An acre of agricultural land in Punjab, fetches anywhere between Rs 5 million and Rs 1o million, depending on its location.

"What this has given us is the advantage of economies of scale," says Manmohan Singh, who never went to college but is an intelligent farmer.

"If we farm bigger holdings, economics work out. Today we own 900 acres and now we are in an expansion mode. We want to develop 100 acres every year and reach 400 acres in a few more years."

As one drives through three kilometres of gravel road from Abiramam town to the village, on either side lay abandoned wastelands filled with hedges and vines. However, on reaching Vallandai village and Akal Farms, an iron gate opens into acres of green orchards, coconut plantations and vegetable nurseries.

"This is easily the most scientific farm in this part of the world. It is amazing to see this in drought-prone Ramanathapuram," Kannan says.

But things weren't always this breezy.

"Locals thought we were crazy to purchase barren plots with wild growth of thorny bushes," said Darshan Singh.

The area was completely abandoned and residents had given up farming in the arid zone heavily dependent on rains for irrigation.

"At first we took up a house for rent in nearby Abiramam and worked from dawn to dusk to clear the land of bushes. We used earthmovers to flatten the ground and develop it in six months and then began farming," says Sarabhjeet Singh, another owner among the group of 17.

Manmohan Singh approached horticulture professor Dr T Armugam from Madurai Agricultural College for advice once they developed the fields.

"They came to me in 2009 or 2010. I visited the grounds and recommended what crops to sow, how they were to be planted and irrigated," Armugam said.

"The farmers followed our advice scrupulously. When it came to science, they had a blind faith in us. We suggested high-value cash crops instead of routine crops in the region -- crops that used less water. High-density plantation was another suggestion that they followed strictly, apart from erecting a drip irrigation system."

The wait has been fruitful and the hard work has been rewarded, says Manmohan Singh, describing the attention, admiration and even envy the success has brought.

The success story has had resonance in his home state with many more farmers arriving here to try their luck.

"In two years, you will see a much bigger Punjab in Ramanathapuram," said an elated Manmohan Singh.

[Courtesy: Hindustan Times. Edited for]
September 8, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Harminder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), September 09, 2015, 1:58 AM.

Your hard work and noble intentions will definitely bring you rich rewards. May you prosper.

2: Sunny Grewal  (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), September 09, 2015, 2:13 AM.

How long before this land too is stolen from these Sikhs?

3: Arjan Singh (USA), September 09, 2015, 9:32 AM.

Sunny ji, your comments are right on the dot. When will the Sikh community learn? These farmers are repeating the blunders of those who went and settled in UP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and other parts of India. When they bring prosperity to these barren and unused lands the local Government will help snatch them right out of the hands of these Sikh farmers for the benefit of the waiting local good-for-nothings.

4: Kaala Singh (Punjab), September 10, 2015, 1:02 AM.

@3: These farmers are in Tamil Nadu where people are of a different ethnic stock. They are better educated and have some morality when compared to the thuggish race of UP and Bihar. So, chances are that these Sikhs will continue to prosper in this area. During the carnage of November 1984, South India was largely unaffected. Killing and looting was done mostly by the thugs of UP, Bihar, Haryana and MP. Even Western India was relatively unaffected except a few places in Maharashtra, where the Congress politicians wanted to "please" their masters by killing Sikhs. Anyways, Sikhs have few options other than moving out as Punjab today has become a decaying cesspool having nothing to offer to anyone. The only businesses that flourish in Punjab today are drugs and alcohol. Even agriculture is a dying industry, there are few buyers for their agricultural produce. Due to the overuse of chemicals the land has become toxic and the products are considered unsafe for consumption.

5: Jaswinder Kaur (Germany), September 12, 2015, 11:43 AM.

I just don't understand why can't our Punjabis work so hard in Punjab,. Secondly, it's better they legally put the land in their own names unconditionally.

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