CHANDIGARH: Successive governments in Punjab have launched social welfare schemes to woo voters, but the benefit of the schemes does not reach those who need it the most, or the schemes fizzle out due to lack of funds. The state’s debt burden today stands at Rs 1.95 lakh crore.
Even the much-hyped power subsidy for the agriculture sector does not benefit small and marginal farmers, who have landholdings of less than 2.50 acres. The fact that 15,000 farmers, mostly poor peasants, committed suicide between the years 2000 and 2015, with 83 per cent of them doing so because of a heavy debt burden, shows that all is not right.
The power subsidy costs the Punjab government Rs 8,000 crore every year. Influential persons and big landowners are the ones who reap the benefit of the subsidy, and not the farmers who really need it. Supply of free power to farmers began in 1997.
According to sources in Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), the utility provides electricity worth Rs 6,000 crore free of cost every year to farmers for irrigating their fields. Of the 13.51 lakh tube well connections in the state, which consume around 11,800 million units of free power every year, around 7.05 lakh connections are of farmers with landholdings of 10 acres or more. Nearly half, or 49.70 per cent, of the 1.64 lakh farmers who have 2.50 acres of land or less, do not have tube well connections.
Also, 46,340 farmers out of the 1.95 lakh whose landholdings are between 2.50 and 5 acres do not have tube well connections. These farmers irrigate their fields with water from canals, use diesel generators to pump water (there are 1.50 lakh diesel generators with farmers in Punjab), or buy water from big landlords.
Sources say that among the influential people who get the free power are more than four dozen MLAs from various political parties, a few Members of Parliament, a few ministers in the state government, other political leaders in the state, and senior civil and police officials. It is estimated that these influential people consume Rs 4,000 crore worth of free power every year, said sources.
The state’s other social welfare schemes are also in the doldrums as the government is in financial straits and has hardly any money to fund them. The government plans to spend Rs 10,000 crore on social welfare schemes it had announced in its manifesto for the assembly elections.
In its first budget in June this year, the government announced 67 welfare schemes that will cost Rs 7,569 crore. Of these, only a couple have been implemented so far. The flagship scheme, the Atta, Dal, Shagan Scheme for the daughters of the poor, is yet to be implemented.
Rs 1.95 l Cr Punjab’s debt burden
Rs 8,000 Cr Annual cost of power subsidy
Rs 6,000 Cr Cost of free power supplied to farmers
13.51 lakh Total number of tube well connections
15,000 Farmer suicides during 2000-2015