The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya in farmers’ power subsidy soup

Chennai, March 24: Chief minister Jayalalithaa today admitted to an angry Opposition that the World Bank was thrusting economic reforms on the state and she had no option but to target subsidies given to the poor.

“We realise that small and marginal farmers badly need this sop. We still have to achieve this goal in a way that also enables us to tell the World Bank that no free power is given by the state,” she said in response to protests in the Assembly over the recent scrapping of free power to farmers.

The previous DMK government had agreed to the setting up of the State Regulatory Electricity Commission to fix power tariffs, Jayalalithaa pointed out. So “when we took over, we were left with no choice but to sign on the dotted line”, claimed the chief minister.

The commission has now fixed tariffs for agricultural pump-sets, but the annual cost of electricity for small and marginal farmers using up to 5 hp motors will be given to them as a direct cash subsidy in half-yearly instalments, she said.

Jayalalithaa said there was no justification for Congress MLA C. Gnanasekharan’s demand that free power supply to all farmers be continued as returns from agriculture had dismally fallen everywhere.

However, regarding direct cash assistance to small and marginal farmers, the chief minister said: “We have also ensured compliance with the World Bank norms without negating our welfare objectives.”

DMK leader Durai Murugan said the Rs 100-crore earmarked this year for aid to small and marginal farmers should be directly subsidised to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to avoid any “dilution” in the direct cash subsidy meant for them.

However, the chief minister argued that continuing with the old system of compensation was not tenable any longer as the board would have to operate on a commercial basis.

Several commercial and other establishments had “misused and wheeled away power illegally” under the guise of availing free power for agriculture, saddling the government with a burden of over Rs 2,600 crore by way of cross-subsidies, which it could ill-afford, she said.

“Now, with information available on the number of small and marginal farmers in the state, the power factor of their pump-sets and their annual consumption, the Rs 100 crore provided for in the budget would be sufficient to help them meet their energy bills,” the chief minister said.

The ADMK chief also pulled up the latest convert to her party, Kumaradoss, for trying to embarrass the government with information on deficiencies in mental asylums.

Kuaradoss along with two of other rebel Congress colleagues had merged his factional party with the ADMK a few days ago.

“The Speaker should remind the member that he is now part of the ruling party and any such information should be first brought to my notice,” Jayalalithaa said.

Much to the amusement of the other Opposition members, a fidgety Kumaradoss immediately apologised for being overenthusiastic in going public with his information.

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