TAMIL NADU

85 per cent of farmers pay electricity bills

CHENNAI OCT. 26. Nearly 85 per cent of farmers have paid power bills, even as five more days are to go for the expiry of the extended deadline.

"The collections from this category have been of the order of Rs. 80 crores," says a senior official of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, hoping that 15 per cent will come this week.

The State has a total of 17 lakh farm connections, of which 1.5 lakhs are covered under the self-financing scheme.

Those under the SFS are not part of the free power supply scheme and have been paying an annual fee of Rs. 250 per horsepower. It is only in respect of the remaining 15 lakh farm connections that the consumption charges have been introduced, scrapping the two-decade-old free power supply scheme.

The Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission, in its order of March last, fixed a charge of Rs.250 per hp per annum for unmetered connections or 20 paise per unit for metered connections. The Government came up with a cash support scheme for 9.4 lakh small and marginal farmers under which those having pumpsets of capacity up to 3 hp will be paid Rs. 500 each twice a year and those with 5 hp and more Rs. 625 twice a year.

Pointing to the "high rate of compliance" among farmers, another official says, "It only shows how willing they are in remitting their dues".

The change in their attitude has to be noticed as it in this State, which witnessed an intense agitation three decades ago over increase of agricultural power tariff by one paise. Besides, the farmers have realised "unsustainable nature" of the free power supply scheme.

Noting that metering of the agricultural connections is the next course of action, authorities, however, concede that it will not be easy. As per the TNERC's directives, the TNEB has to ensure 100 per cent metering in three years.

Dissenting voices

However, there are "dissenting voices" from the farming community. "The farmers paid the power bills not voluntarily, but out of compulsion," says A.P. Kalyanam, general secretary, Federation of Farmers Associations (Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Tiruvarur districts).

The farmers know that the EB officials will promptly disconnect their connections after the deadline if they do not pay.

Also, they do not want their crop to suffer, in the event of severing of the power connection.

Pointing out that there are several practical difficulties in effecting "name transfer" of land deeds, Mr. Kalyanam says that several landowners in the composite Thanjavur district are living in other States or even abroad, particularly in the Gulf. Besides, many, who have purchased land, are yet to get their documents registered. As a result, the details of the present actual land owners are not available in many cases with the administration.

Demanding the restoration of the free power supply scheme, he wants the Government to revert to its earlier arrangement of paying the TNEB directly the subsidy amount.

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