CHANDIGARH: The Punjab cabinet on Wednesday approved a pilot research project on direct benefit transfer for electricity (DBTE) for 990 agricultural consumers so as to check the receding groundwater levels in the state.
Chief minister Amarinder Singh also appealed to big farmers to voluntarily give up their power subsidy to contribute to government's efforts to check water depletion.
Under the DBTE pilot project, Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) has tied up with J-PAL South Asia and the World Bank to evaluate DBTE for 990 agricultural pumpset (AP) connections. Beneficiary farmers would be paid subsidy in cash based on cost of power for irrigating crops as finalized by experts from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Punjab State Farmers Commission along with agriculture and water resources departments. The farmers would be issued bills for electricity and allowed to retain the savings. This means subsidy minus the bill amount.
As on date, there are around 13.50 lakh AP tubewell connections across the state. The subsidy to be paid by the state government to PSPCL in lieu of free power to AP sector is around Rs 6,000 crore for financial year 2017-18 and this burden is increasing every year. A government spokesperson said the state cabinet's move would not place any financial burden on the already beleaguered farmers. The DBTE scheme would help the state in promoting crop diversification, the spokesperson added.
The cabinet also took another decision relating to power subsidy surrender by rich farmers. It was decided to give such farmers the option to give up their AP subsidy by 50% or complete subsidy of 100%, for which they would be charged Rs 202 per BHP per month or Rs 403 per BHP per month, respectively. Voluntary surrender of power subsidy by agriculture consumers will reduce the subsidy burden of the state, which is providing eight hours of uninterrupted power supply during paddy season and 8-10 hours alternate day in non-paddy season to agricultural consumers.