Hyderabad:Farmers’ organisations and Opposition parties have slammed the Andhra Pradesh government’s move to initiate direct benefit transfer (DBT) to pay for power consumption by farmers who are at present drawing free electricity. As part of the initiative, the electricity distribution companies (discoms) will fix smartmetersat agriculture pumpsets to bill power consumption.
This move will make Andhra Pradesh the first state to implement the Central government’s power reforms, as proposed in the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
“The government shall implement the scheme, through direct cash transfer mode, where the money will be directly credited to the farmers’ bank accounts for the power consumed by them in their fields and they, in turn, shall pay the power bills to the Power Distribution Companies (discoms). The pilot project will be introduced in Srikakulam and it will cover the entire State from April 2021,”saysa government statement on the scheme. A recent government order (GO mo 22) specifies the same.
Farmers are opposing the scheme as it threatens to cease the free power supply to them, says Y Kesav Rao, President of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham.
“The scheme is nothing but the Andhra Pradesh government surrendering the energy sector to the Central government while states such as Telangana, Kerala, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu, among others, have opposed the scheme along with other controversial provisions of the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020,” Rao said.
In May, the Union Ministry of Finance increased theborrowing limitof states from 3% to 5% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) for 2020-21, but subject to their carrying out specific reforms. By introducing this DBT scheme in the power sector, Andhra Pradesh will be eligible to borrow an additional 0.25% of its GSDP under the ‘Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management’ guidelines.
“The state could borrow an additional Rs 1,500 crore through the implementation of the reform but metering pumpsets alone would cost Rs 400 crore,” estimates Rao. He added that farmers in the state had agitated for over 30 years to get free electricity.
“If themetersfail due to improper power supply, the burden of buying newmeterswill again fall on farmers,” he said.
The Y S Jaganmohan Reddy-led governmentreportedlyspends about Rs 8,400 crore per year for providing free electricity to nearly 18 lakh farmers in Andhra Pradesh.
State authorities are planning to implement the scheme in Srikakulam district by the end of this year and expand it to all districts by April next year.
Opposition parties, including Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Left parties, have opposed the reform while warning of state-wide agitations.
TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu termed the scheme as betrayal of farmers and warned that the fixing ofmeterswould herald countless problems for farmers.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary P Madhu, while addressing a round table conference on the scheme in Vijayawada on Sunday,saidthat the state government had not understood the pros and cons of power sector reforms, and called for a united struggle opposing the scheme.
“If the government wants power consumption accountability, instead of spending hundreds of crores on smart meters, it can fix meters at substations,” suggested K Rama Krishna, State Secretary, Communist Party of India.
In 1984, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao or NTR, then Chief Minister of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, had stopped metering agriculture pumpsets. In 2004, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (then Chief Minister) had started a free electricity scheme for farmers in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh.