Chandigarh, August 3, 2023: (The Tribune Report) The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha has held a discussion on withdrawing free power to farmers having large landholdings.
14.50L Tubewell connections
• A total of 10,128 farmers have four to nine tubewell connections
• 29,322 farmers have three and 1.42 lakh have two tubewell connections
• Only 1.83 lakh farmers have a single tubewell connection
• In all, there are 14.50 lakh tubewell connections in the state
• Out of Rs 20,243 crore power subsidy this year, Rs 9,331 crore is for the farm sector
Different studies have showed how majority of the “untargeted power subsidy” was being availed by large farmers and only a fraction of small and marginal farmers (having less than 5 acres of land) were benefiting from it.
Discussed Several points
While some PAC members suggested that all pump sets should be metered, others recommended that the subsidy to large farmers should be withdrawn.
Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, PAC Chairman
In 2017, economist RS Ghuman’s study revealed that only 6.6 per cent of tubewells were of marginal farmers (who own less than 2.5 acres of land) and 11. 88 per cent of small farmers (having 2.5- 5 acres of land). The operational land holdings of these farmers stood at 34.19 per cent and 95 per cent of farmers’ suicides were reported from these two categories.
No letter received so far
The state government has not yet received a letter from the Public Accounts Committee, recommending doing away with the power subsidy to large farmers.
Harpal Cheema, Finance Minister
Ghuman said, “Ironically, more than 81 per cent of the subsidy is being cornered by the medium and large farmers (having over 10 acres of land). It should go only to the small and marginal farmers who are living on the edge. Also, there is a link between free power to agriculture sector, increase in area under water-guzzling paddy and depleting groundwater table.”
This “untargeted subsidy”, coupled with the fact that the excessive groundwater extraction because of rampant use of tubewells, is the reason that the issue has gained the limelight.
Interestingly, the previous government had brought a scheme wherein the large and medium farmers were asked to voluntarily give up the power subsidy. Only 10 tubewell connections, including those of former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, state BJP chief Sunil Jakhar and former deputy CM Sukhjinder Randhawa were given up.
Members of the PAC led by Congress MLA Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, including those from AAP, sent the report to the Chief Secretary.
Bajwa said, “While some PAC members suggested that all agriculture pump sets be metered to know the extent of power supply to the agriculture sector, others recommended that the subsidy to large farmers should be withdrawn. It was also suggested that no farmer should be given more than two connections and tubewells near canal networks be disconnected. These points will be a part of the final report, which will be tabled in the Vidhan Sabha in April 2024.”
Rajinder Singh Deepsinghwala of the Kirti Kisan Union said, “Before withdrawing the power subsidy, give MSP as per the Swaminathan Commission report. The discussion always drifts towards excessive extraction of groundwater. Has any government offered us a different model? Moreover, what have the governments done to ensure that the canal water reaches the tail ends?” he asked.
Finance Minister Harpal Cheema said the government had yet not received the letter from the PAC, recommending doing away with power subsidy to large farmers.