Tackling the issue of electricity supply to the farm sector has been a major stumbling block in the road to recovery of power utilities. Since farmers form a sizeable vote bank, politicians are averse to any increases in tariff, which in several states is nil. At the same time, farmers are not entirely averse to paying a reasonable price for electricity if they are assured of quality power supply.
Things, however, are changing. A few years ago, Gujarat invested large sums to lay separate supply lines to the homes of farmers. This way, in times of power shortages, especially in the summers when the mercury soars, a farmer can look for comfort beyond the breeze in the air. And, the farmer does not mind paying for this power.
The feeder bifurcation strategy is a blend of populism and commerce. Its popularity is gaining strength across the country. Recently, 40 consumers in Nashik district in Maharashtra sought compensation from the state-owned Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd for not providing dedicated supply to their homes, which are separate from the farm connections. It has been three years since they applied.
This incident brings to the fore issues associated with implementing the feeder bifurcation system. Utility officials point out that while transformers have been installed to enable supply, miscalculation of demand has rendered it a stillborn project.
Hence, it is critical to ensure technical and managerial competence in the implementation of power reforms. It is as important as mustering the political will to raise farm tariffs. Both need to go hand in hand.
The political class needs to realize that as farmers earn more—as has been the trend over the last few years with their produce fetching significantly more in the marketplace—they are more than willing to pay for electricity, quality power that not only reaches their homes but, over time, also their farms. In this lies the justification for farm tariff hikes.
No doubt there will continue to be cases of farmer distress in the country. Such pockets of agrarian crisis need to be handled delicately with waivers of loans and power dues.
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