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Bonanza for farmers
Hooda waives power arrears of Rs 1600 crore
Yoginder Gupta
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 17
In a significant decision, which should go a long way in resolving the long-standing contentious issue the unpaid electricity dues by farmers of the state, the Hooda government in Haryana today waived a whopping Rs 1600 crore outstanding power arrears of farmers and other rural domestic consumers.

The Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who made the announcement in the Vidhan Sabha, described the decision as "historical and unprecedented, which no other government could take in the past and no government would take in future."

Coming down heavily on the Indian National Lok Dal and its leader, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, Mr Hooda said during the past one decade, "gullible and simple farming community" of the state was misled into non-payment of electricity dues by "opportunistic politicians", promising free electricity and free water.

"In fact, the very edifice of the erstwhile INLD Government during the 2000 Assembly elections was the propagation of the patently false promise of giving free power. All that the farmers received at the end of the day were bullets and brutalities, subjugation and suppression as also unspeakable cruelty. Kandela to Gulkani -- the history of the farmers' agitations was written with a long trail of blood and dead bodies," he added.

Soon after coming to power, Mr Hooda had constituted a Cabinet subcommittee under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister, Mr Birender Singh, to find a solution to this issue, which had been bringing the successive governments and a section of the farming community into a confrontation, leading to police firings on the agitating farmers.

The arrears of only those consumers in the rural sector would be waived off who pay the future bills regularly. To ensure this, the government has decided that 10 per cent of the arrears would be written off with the payment of each of the next 10 bills on a two-month cycle basis. Thus, if a consumer pays regularly and "uninterruptedly" his electricity dues for the next 20 months, his entire arrears would stand paid off.

As a reward to those rural sector consumers who paid their bills regularly, the government decided to give them 5 per cent rebate on their dues for the next 20 months. This decision has been obviously taken to respect the sentiments of the farming community of those districts which constitute the "tubewell belt" along the G.T. Road. Residents of Ambala, Yamunanagar, Karnal, Kurukshetra, part of Kaithal and certain other districts never agitated for free power. Their only demand had been "quality and adequate" power. The government did not want to punish this belt for being law-abiding.

Mr Hooda said though the Congress had never made a false commitment on the power bills, it wanted to resolve the issue in a manner so as to provide relief to the entire farming community, encourage them to pay their bills regularly and at the same time protect the financial health of the power utilities.

He did not agree that he should have taken this step near the elections. "We do not believe in politics of vote. We want to help the farming community and villagers."

A former Haryana Congress President, Mr Shamsher Singh Surjewala, said by taking this decision at this juncture when the elections were nowhere near, the Hooda Government would generate more goodwill. "People do understand that near the elections, the politicians always offer sops, " he added.

The State BKU chief, Mr Ghasi Ram Nain, who led the farmers' agitation in 2002 and against whom the INLD regime had slapped a sedition case, also welcomed the government's announcement, saying it would help the already suffering farming community.

Though he did not give details of how the government planned to compensate the cash-starved power utilities for the loss of about Rs 1600 crore, Mr Hooda said part of the financial gap would be covered by reducing the losses, improving the infrastructure and making the billing and collection system more effective.

For the remaining gap, he said, the government would help the utilities to pay the instalments of the loans raised to cover the arrears.

Since the arrears would be waived off in two financial years, the government would not have to pay the entire amount of Rs 1600 to the power utilities in this year alone. It also hopes that once the farmers start paying their current bills regularly, the cash flow of the power utilities would automatically increase.

Mr Hooda did not agree that the urban consumers who had been paying their bills regularly had been discriminated against and some political party could mislead them into not paying their bills on the pattern of the rural voters. He said his government had allocated Rs 100 crore for the first time in the history of the state for the development of urban areas.

He said the government was giving several facilities to the urban areas which were not available in the rural areas. His government was committed to the development of all the areas of the state so that migration from the villages to the urban areas could be checked.

He said the Rs 1600 crore which would be waived off, included about Rs 550 crore as surcharge.

Dr Sushil Indora and Dr Sita Ram of the INLD also welcomed the announcement but said that the arrears should have been waived "unconditionally". They said their party also felt that the farmers should pay their bills regularly.

MLAs demand ‘bijli, pani’
Shubhadeep Chaudhury
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 17
The principal theme of the ongoing Budget session of the Haryana Assembly is undoubtedly the eternal demand of the MLAs for “bijli, pani and sadak” for their constituencies.

However, there is also no dearth of humorous interludes in the proceedings with the mild-mannered Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, setting the tone for the atmosphere in the Assembly. The BJP’s Mr Ram Kumar Gautam was today going on and on about the bad condition of roads in Narnaund when Mr Hooda intervened in his inimitable style.

“This government simply cannot ignore it, if the roads in Narnaund are really bad. My ‘maami’ (maternal aunt) is from Narnaund and so is the Finance Minister, Mr Birender Singh’s ‘chachi’ (paternal aunt). So Narnaund is as important for us as it is for you”, Mr Hooda said while the House burst into peels of laughter. Mr Gautam, a hunk of a man, sat down after thanking Mr Hooda.

The question-answer session on the damage done to crops by neelgai (antelopes) and wild boar also saw the House getting into a humorous mode. It was the INLD’s Mr Sushil Indora who came out with a novel idea to tackle the menace of neelgai. “May be like cattle and horses have been domesticated, the neelgai too, can be tamed”, Mr Indora said.

Mr Sharma told an amused Assembly that since the antelopes were a deer species, it was not possible to domesticate the animals. Finally, Mr Hooda wound up the issue saying that Haryana would study a scheme started by the Punjab Government in this regard and see if it could work in Haryana.

Mr Randeep Surjewala, Transport and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, meanwhile, did not lose the opportunity of having a dig at Mr Indora when the latter suggested taming the deer. “The man who used to tame horses and cattle is not coming to the Assembly. Perhaps, he could have tamed the deer”, Mr Surjewala said. The minister did not take anyone’s name but the man in question was undoubtedly the INLD supremo and former Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala. It was a stinging comment on Mr Chautala’s followers and Mr Indora and other INLD legislators understandably got angry.

Among the ministers, Mr Randeep Surjewala seems to be showing the maximum aggression towards his opponents. The senior Surjewala, Mr Shamsher Singh, Randeep’s father and MLA from Kaithal, has established himself as one of the ablest speakers in the present Assembly. Mr Shamsher Singh, however, lost his temper somewhat yesterday and called the INLD anti-women and anti-Dalit and said it was generally against all progressive ideas. This hurt Dr Sita Ram, the 37-year-old second-time INLD legislator, who is a dentist by profession.

The Speaker, Mr H.S. Chatha, got into a bit of soup today when he called a member by the wrong name. The member is Mr Harsh Kumar but the Speaker yelled “Harkesh Kumar” as he asked the MLA to speak. Mr Harsh Kumar was not pleased by the mistake and did not stand up initially. When he finally stood up, he coldly reminded the Speaker that he was not called Harkesh Kumar.

Mr Chatha otherwise conducts the House with authority and prefers to speak in bad English, and occasionally in good Punjabi.

Mr Bharat Singh Chhokar of the Congress also provided some comic relief during his speech on the Budget proposals. MLAs are not honest and that is why government officers dare to indulge in corruption, he said.


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