Chandigarh, Sept. 8: It’s official now. After having enjoyed free power for five years and five months, farmers using motors to draw water to irrigate their fields will now have to pay for the electricity consumed from August 1.
The Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission today approved a flat rate of Rs 2 per kwh or Rs 210 per horsepower for the farm sector, provided the government withdrew the subsidy of nearly Rs 850 crore being provided to the farmers. With subsidy, the tariff has been fixed at 57 paise/kwh or Rs 60 per horsepower every month.
Contrary to government claims, the farm sector rollback as proposed by the state electricity board was not contested by the state, the commission said in its 159-page report.
The tariff order released today by commission chairman R.S. Mann also earmarked an increase of 8-11 per cent for the railways, the domestic, commercial sectors. Even the backward classes have not been spared. The tariff hike is expected to net an additional Rs 2,461 crore for the electricity board.
The imposition of tariff on the farm sector follows the power board’s argument that free power to this section was the primary reason for the utility’s financial difficulties. Free power to the farm sector was promised by the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine during the 1997 elections.
The Congress had also promised to continue providing free power to the sector. But soon after coming to power, chief minister Amarinder Singh announced that the electricity board was on the verge of collapse and a tariff increase was imminent. Even today Singh said the state was facing a power crisis due to a shortage of coal in the thermal plants and a complete breakdown was inevitable within 10 days.
With the commission report mentioning that the government did not oppose a rollback in free power to the farm sector, the government faces agitations in the rural belt led by the Shiromani Akali Dal. The party’s chief, former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, today termed the decision to impose power tariff on the farm sector “a Himalayan blunder”.
Badal said his party would oppose the move, taken on the pretext of implementing the recommendations of the regulatory commission. “The government must immediately abandon its plans in this direction or be prepared to face prolonged agitation by the people of Punjab.”
Badal reiterated that attempts to burden the already beleaguered peasantry with a crippling load of electricity bills for tubewells would be resisted.
“Withdrawal of free electricity as a productivity incentive for the farm sector would be a blunder both in terms of economic far-sightedness and the concerns of social stability. If Amarinder has run out of ideas, let him consult those who kept the system functioning smoothly for five years,” Badal said.
The former chief minister said the previous government’s decision to provide free electricity to the farm sector was neither a sentimental gesture nor a political master-stroke but was based on time-tested economic factors like the input-output ratio of a fiscal decision.