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Farmers asked to pay for ‘not using’ canal water
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Samrala, August 2
There is shock and awe among farmers of the state. Shock because of huge bills, which they have been asked to pay for using and also for not using canal water for irrigation, and awe because of the action they will have to face for defaulting on the payment. In local parlance, cancel water usage charges are called “abiana”.

In fact, farmers are seething with anger against the Punjab Government over the bills for canal water usage. The Irrigation Department authorities have sent the bills to farmers in various villages asking them to pay the same at the earliest or face the action. Tehsildars are also being involved by the department in the recovery of the bills.

The government had fixed Rs 40 per acre for kharif season and same amount for rabi season as charges for canal water usage by farmers. However, Mr Baljinder Singh, son of Mr Sukhdev Singh of Bondli village, near here, has got a bill for Rs 829 per acre as charges for canal water usage. And these rates vary farmer to farmer and village to village.

Water charges have been levied taking into count the command area of water outlets through which water is supplied to farmers from water courses. Mr Bant Singh, Mr Amarjit Singh, Mr Jit Singh and Mr Avtar Singh of the same village have to pay the charges as Rs 632 per acre.

In Baghore village farmers, including Surjit Singh, Mastan Singh, Nirmal Singh, Ashok Kumar, Ajit, Pritam, will have to pay the charges as Rs 810 per acre for kharif crop instead of Rs 40, which is official rate per acre. There are farmers like Baljinder Singh, who have to pay as much as Rs 24,880 for using canal water for kharif and rabi crops during 2005-06. They have also been asked to pay dues of water charges since the rabi crop of 2002-03 when the present Congress government had levied charges on usage of canal water on farmers.

During the previous SAD-BJP regime the canal water was supplied free to farmers. Owing to the accumulation of dues, canal water bills of several hundred farmers run into thousands of rupees.

Farmers are being made to pay through their nose because of totally unjustified and lopsided decision implemented in this regard by the authorities. Obviously, political executives, who failed to correct the decision, are now being condemned by the farmers.

The Irrigation Department issued a notification in November, 2002, directing its field officials to recover canal water charges from farmers.

It directed them to recover the charges from all farmers, whose fields fall within a command area of a water outlet, irrespective of the fact that whether any farmer is using the canal water or not.

For instance, there is 992-acre command area of an outlet at Bhagore village fed by Sangatpura water minor. However, actual users of canal water from that outlet are only eight farmers and total area they have been irrigating is only 49 acres. The Irrigation Department billed all farmers, even those who have not been using water, to the tune of Rs 39,690 at the rate of Rs 40 per acre for a total command area of 
992 acres.

This practice had continued for three seasons up to rabi crop of 2003-04. When farmers, who don’t use canal water at all, raised a hue and cry against the decision, the government, making amendments in the notification, issued a new one on July 19, 2004, asking the authorities concerned to recover charges of total command area of an outlet from farmers who are actual user of canal water.

For example, the command area of an outlet at Barma village, near here, is 654 acre. However, actual users of water from that outlet are only six farmers, including Swaran Singh, and they irrigate only 56 acres owned by them.

On the basis of the new notification, these six farmers have been asked to pay water usage charges of 654 acre (entire command area of outlet), though they irrigate only 56 acres.

One can cite a huge number of such examples. And this is true in case of several hundred villages across the state.

In Samrala Ziledar’s circle alone, the total command area of various outlets is 57,759 acre, but canal water is used by farmers only to irrigate 9,000 acres.

The government has now asked the farmers owning 9,000 acres to pay Rs 23,10,364 for kharif crop of 2005 for a total command area of 57,759 acres. However, till date farmers have paid only Rs 4,16,576.

Mr Balbir Singh Rajewal, a senior leader of the BKU, said first of all there should be no charging of money from farmers for using canal water because the Congress before coming to power had promised to give canal water and power to the farm sector free of cost. “Why was this government now putting farmers to so much harassment?” he asked.

To make farmers to pay charges of total command area was most unreasonable step. Six or eight-odd farmers could not use water provided for entire command area, he asserted.

Mr Rajewal said he had urged the Chief Minister’s office and the Irrigation Department authorities to set things right. The government is to recover about Rs 80 crore from farmers in the entire state as water usage charges.

He said farmers were up in arms and they were preparing to hold a big march towards Chandigarh in protest against the irrational water bills.

Tehsildars had started threatening defaulting farmers.

They were not doing any revenue related work. They were forcing to pay even those farmers who did not use canal water at all.




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