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Q: Should power be given free to farmers?
(This is the second instalment of readers’ views that we have received in response to this question)

Power corrupts, free power corrupts freely

Who needs free power? Some lessons must be learnt from a state like Punjab that failed miserably in improving the conditions of the farmers by providing them free power. Free power can never help the poor and small farmers. They don’t have the machines that run on electricity. They can never afford to even think of installing the tubewell, their holdings are so small. They are either at the mercy of the rain god or getting water directly form a canal. When we speak of power (free or otherwise), our target would have been the rich farmers, but providing them with free power would mean being dishonest to the taxpayers and a big drain on the public exchequer. If the purpose is to help farmers, there are many others ways to do that. As power corrupts, similarly, free power would lead to criminal negligence.

— SAHIL VIJAY, Jalandhar

Anything free loses its worth

Anything which comes free loses its worth, be it water, electricity or free air. Without knowing the significance of the resources, we start misusing these. We can see the state of power in Jammu and Kashmir. There is no control and a lot of pilferage is going on, upto the extent that some persons are paying only Rs 10 monthly as electricity bill and using power freely. In any house there, you will find geysers on all day during winter, heaters on when not needed, fans, tubelights, TV, coolers running when not required. Although there are massive power failures, when they do get it, they know they are going to pay only the minimum, so they misuse it. The same will happen if farmers are given free power. The others will have to face the consequences: power failure or increased rate. Farmers can be given subsidy upto some extent but free power “no way”.


Farmers will suffer

PSEB was the first to propose doing away with the metering of electricity for farmers and instead charge a flat rate, but free power has damaged the fabric of state electricity boards. It has often resulted in farmers not switching off the inefficient power-guzzling pump sets. They sow only paddy like crops due to the free power that is available, which has led to a fall in the water level in the state. Farmers are now suffering by having to use costly submersible pumps and replacing existing centrifugal pumps. The Electricity Act-2003 authorises a state to give subsidy to any section of consumers with the provision that the state government must give the amount of subsidy to electricity board in advance. In case free power is given to farmers, the other vital sectors like health, education and roads may suffer for want of funds.

— V.K. GUPTA, Ropar

It’s sheer ‘waste of time’

Under the prevailing circumstances, farmers should indeed be given free power, but in principle, no goods should be given free to any sector. A few farmers misuse the free power supplied to run the tubewells. If all farmers are charged for the power, it will be to penalise the entire farming community. I retired from the PAU in Ludhiana as Senior Horticulturist in June, 2003.I have planted two acres of peaches just to demonstrate it to my younger brother and others that orcharding is beneficial as a step toward diversification of agriculture. To acquaint me with the ground reality, he asked me to stay at the village and supervise the irrigation of peaches during April-May, which I did. Dur to the meagre and erratic power supply those six days, irrigating the 2-acre plot took me about 12 hours. Had the power been supplied without breakdowns, all this would have taken a lot less time. One can only pay for quality power supply.

— Dr K. K. SHARMA, Ludhiana

Not 100 per cent

Free power to farmers will upset the financial position of the state electricity board. Therefore, farmers should be charged at the following rates:

1. Electric tubewells irrigating upto 5 acre holding: Rs 30 PHP.

2. Electric tubewells irrigating upto 7 acre holding: Rs 40 PHP.

3. Electric tubewells irrigating above 7 acre holding: 50 PHP.

If the farmer has two electric tubewells, the above slab rate should be applicable to only one tubewell. For using the second tubewell, the farmer should be charged at the existing normal rates.


Subsidy, not sops

The farming community should be given all encouragement for producing more and more food grains through incentives such as subsidised fertilisers, pesticides, seed and a regular power supply. However, giving them totally free power is not only unwise but also an economic blunder. Subsidised power supply or flat rate as per the load drawn by the electric motor is reasonable, but total free power has nothing else but vested interest of the politicians behind it. The big landlords are the biggest beneficiaries as they do not pay anything. Concession if any should be based on a three-tier system: minimum rate from the farmer having less than 5 acres, a higher slab for farmers having from 5 acres to 15 acres and full rate from the landlords owning more than 15 acres. Free power is at times misused for purposes other than agriculture. The small-scale industry and domestic consumers have to bear the burden by footing heavy bills.


Economically not viable

Giving free electricity to farmers is not in the national interest. Some opportunist parties in our country lure the voters to give free electricity and thus come to power. No ruling party is in a position to give free electricity to farmers. To encourage diversification of crops, government should give subsidiary on oil seed, pulses and save electric energy from the wastage during the paddy season. Electric tubewell, even if the power bills are paid, is still cheaper than diesel pumps both in terms of fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Government spends crores of rupees on setting up powerhouses. No shop can offer anything free for long, nor can the government.


Think before you demand

If a unit of electricity cannot be produced free of cost, it should not be given to anybody free of cost. It is strange why people want such concessions that . Which politician can afford to give electricity free to anybody? If farmers demand such concessions, the slum dwellers of India and billions of poor living in inhuman conditions in cities also deserve such concessions. The real culprits are the politicians who practise populist culture and gain immediate goodwill of the farming community. The farmers, who are a proud segment of society, must smell the rat in false promise. The regime of freebies has to be considered in view of the fiscal health of society. It is wrong to rob Peter to please Pal.

— Dr J. S. ANAND, Bathinda

Keep doomsday in view

The development of agriculture mainly depends upon the percentage farming. For better production, irrigation is necessary and that depends upon the tubewells that run on electricity. There is, thus, a great need of generating electricity especially for farmers, but it no way means that power should be given free. It would not be possible for our government to take the load. Ultimately one day, we may have no power at all. The need of hour is electricity whose supply can be properly maintained.


Keep the focus on small farmers

Real India lives in her villages. India is emerging as an industrial and economic power, but the benefits have not reached the farmers. According to the 2001 census, 26.1 per cent of us live below poverty line; 72 per cent live in the villages and 61 per cent of them are farmers. Agricultural economy is going to the dogs and many farmers have committed suicide. Small-scale industries should be developed in the villages, so that the poor farmers get employment throughout the year. Oliver Goldsmith wrote:

“Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”

Edwardganj Public Welfare Association, Malout

Next Thursday
The last instalment of letters on the subject will be published next week.


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