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Power trick before polls

Calcutta, Jan. 13: With elections around the corner, Bu- ddhadeb Bhattacharjee's pro-reforms government has announced a Rs 20-crore subsidy for small farmers.

The bounty will bring down power tariff from Rs 1.60 a unit to Rs 1.30.

Over 80 per cent of the 12 lakh farmers across Bengal who use pump-operated tube-wells will benefit from the sop.

Boro (irrigation-based dry- season cultivation) farmers ' primarily in Hooghly, Burdwan, Howrah and Nadia ' are now growing paddy, wheat, mustard and potatoes.

'In 2005-2006, the tariff for unmetered farmers went up by about 60 per cent ' from Rs 1.04 a unit to Rs 1.60 a unit. We have decided to give Rs 20 crore as subsidy to the West Bengal State Electricity Board to bring the tariff down to Rs 1.30 a unit, (which would mean) a hike of only 25 per cent,' finance minister Asim Dasgupta said .

Farmers with unmetered supply now declare to the board the quantity of power they would like to use in the boro season and pay for it to get the connection.

Power department officials said they were not in favour of the sop. 'We don't encourage subsidy to this section as we want farmers to move from unmetered to metered supply. A higher tariff would have encouraged people to opt for meters. But this being an election year, the government relented,' an official said.

In all likelihood, the subsidy will not be in effect next year, he added.

Power for small farmers is now cross-subsidised by high-end consumers. Board sources said many farmers now install heavy-duty pumps and supply water to other cultivators illegally. This is a prime reason why the board wants farmers to install meters for pumps.

The decision to provide the subsidy followed a meeting between Samar Bawra, the general secretary of the CPM farmers' body, the finance minister and the chief minister.

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