The once lucrative emu-rearing business has gone bust in the state. As the promoters flee, farmers are left with no option but to cull the starving birds, reports Jeemon Jacob
EMU FARMS in Erode and Salem districts of Tamil Nadu are in an appalling state. Once termed the most lucrative opportunity in the poultry-meat business, emus are being starved and slaughtered indiscriminately after the state police started booking cases against the farm-promoters for cheating 2,000 investors of an estimated Rs 300 crore. These farms were set up by importing seed-birds from Australia at a cost of nearly Rs 30,000 a pair.
The Economic Offences Wing of the Tamil Nadu Police has registered 2,700 cases against 20 emu farm owners in Erode district till 14 August. “Now more and more people are coming forward to register cases against farm owners who cheated them,” says S Ganesh, the Erode District Revenue Officer who had conducted investigation in the district.
Emu farms burst on the business scene in 2006 with high-voltage media campaigns, using popular Tamil film stars as their brand ambassadors. Within five years, around 250 emu farms mushroomed in the state. The bubble burst this summer, leaving many of marginal farmers, who were conned by the promoters, in a lurch. The promoters claimed that the meat was being exported to Australia.
The Tamil Nadu government started acting against emu farms in the state last year, by issuing an advice to farmers to not invest in the venture as the research at the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University doubted the viability of the business. Even in Australia, where the birds are endemic to, the business has been termed unviable. The Animal Husbandry department intervened after several farmers complained that they were being duped by the emu farm promoters.
In 2006, MS Guru, a small farmer from Perundurai, founded Susi Emu Farms and introduced a buy-back scheme that promised lucrative returns. For an initial investment of Rs 1.5 lakh, the promoter promised a return of Rs 3.34 lakh within two years.
The state police has registered 2,700 cases against 20 emu farm owners for swindling 2,000 investors of Rs 300 cr
Tamil actors R Sarathkumar and Sathyaraj were the brand ambassadors for Susi Emu Farms in Perundurai that duped many investors. Now, the police has booked criminal cases against both Sarathkumar and Sathyaraj for endorsing the false claims of the emu companies. Sarathkumar is also a sitting MLA from Tirunelveli district.
“Guru’s business model was regarded as the most successful, and all political leaders hailed him for introducing novel business initiatives. Later, he started a chain of hotels in Bengaluru, New Delhi, Puducherry and Erode. Now, he is absconding and his family is missing,” says R Arumugam who had invested Rs 6 lakh in Susi Emu farm. Many farms followed Guru’s suit in setting up such lucrative-sounding ponzi schemes.
“Many people had grabbed the opportunity by investing in it. If a person invested Rs 1.5 lakh, he/she was given a gold coin and promised Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 every month in return for rearing the birds, besides an assured yearly bonus of Rs 20,000,” says S Somasundaram, president of Bolanaickanpalayam Panchayat where four such farms are located.
Later, the firms introduced another scheme offering the investor Rs 7,000 monthly interest for a deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh. Unlike the regular scheme, the firms reared the chicks and paid the investors a monthly interest with an annual bonus of Rs 20,000.
Perundurai, a township 20 kilometres away from Erode with 28 emu farms has now turned into the centrestage of people’s protests. A large number of people who had invested in the farms stage protests in front of the farms every day.
“At least 100 emus were found dead in various farms around Erode as they were not fed for a week. Now, the district administration is providing minimum feed for the starving birds and veterinary doctors have been deployed to check the status,” says Dharma Rajan, a journalist based in Erode. The suppliers stopped sending feed to the farms after the promoters started defaulting on their payments.
“The hungry birds fight with each other. If the food supply is low, the fight becomes fierce, leading to instant death of birds,” says Nallamuthu, a farm worker.
Emu farms burst on the business scene with high-voltage media campaigns, using Tamil film stars as their brand ambassadors
Cases have been registered against promoters of Queen Emu Farms, Alma Emu Farm, Susi Emu Farm and TVS Emu Farm, in Sathyamangalam town, under Section 120 (b), 406 and 420 of IPC and Section 5 of Tamil Nadu Protection of Interest of Depositors (TNPID) Act 1997.
“The promoters are absconding and we have formed special teams to nab them,” said a senior police official.
Meanwhile, some emu farms have started slaughtering the emus to recover the swindled money and are selling the meat at a wholesale price of Rs 300 per kg. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention in banning the sale of emu meat.
VK Shanmugam, district collector of Erode, told TEHELKA that the district administration is taking all precautions to save emus from peril. “We are ensuring feed for the farms. We have also sought the help of Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University to send a team of experts to Erode to assist in effective handling of the situation,” said the collector.
After the scam surfaced, several farmers from the districts of Salem, Tirupur, Coimbatore and Nilgiris started filing complaints against emu farm promoters.
“People thought only about the huge financial returns. They never cross-checked how they could get these returns and now they are paying for their mistake. It’s another bubble burst,” says S Nallaswamy, President, Lower Bhavani Farmers’ Association.
The future looks bleak for both the emus and their investor-owners.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.