Friday, September 20, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Special meeting today
Order to bill farmers for power
P.P.S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 19
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has convened a special meeting at Moti Bagh Palace, Patiala, tomorrow to discuss the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (PSERC) tariff order that has recommended billing of agriculture power and to draw up a political strategy. It will be attended by the bureaucrats concerned.

Discontinuation of ‘’free’’ power to operate agriculture pumpsets has become a major political issue between the ruling Congress and the opposition SAD. Though, legally, the tariff order is binding on all, the final decision somehow has been left to the political executive. Aggrieved party or person, if any, can seek a remedy by filing an appeal in the high court.

There is practically no choice before Capt Amarinder Singh except to implement the order effective from August 1. But then he has to contend with many political exigencies. Decision-making for him is all the more arduous in the absence of political cohesiveness within the party and the Cabinet on billing agriculture power. He is also faced with a strident stand taken by the SAD, its factions and several kisan unions.

Tomorrow’s meeting is crucial. Sources say after studying the tariff order in detail, Capt Amarinder Singh may consolidate his decision on the matter by obtaining tacit political support as much of the party high command in New Delhi as of a majority of his own colleagues in the Cabinet, which is now tentatively scheduled to meet in Chandigarh on Tuesday.

Any deviation from the tariff order is contempt of the commission. The agriculture power billing is effective from August 1 whereas for non-agriculture consumers, the period from April 1 to July 31 is to be covered through annualisation of the tariff order for the remaining period of the current year. When asked how much would be the financial outgo if the government decides to defer billing agriculture power to farmers and compensating the PSEB from the exchequer, sources said approximately Rs 25 crore, per month.

Another key issue to be taken up tomorrow at Patiala pertains to paddy procurement. Punjab has asked the RBI for Rs 5,784 crore as the cash credit limit for paddy procurement.

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