With a view to raising funds for the cash-starved irrigation department (also known as canal department), the Punjab government has asked it to collect ‘abiana’ (water usage charges) from farmers instead of the revenue department that earlier collected the same.
The revenue department has been engaged in collecting the water usage charges for several decades. Since the farming community, which forms a huge chunk of voters for the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), was not paying abiana, the canal department has also decided to waive off the ‘abiana’ running into crores that has is pending for decades.
Moreover, the irrigation department has also decreased water usage charges in the state. Earlier, the farmers were paying Rs 75 for each crop and Rs 150 for two crop seasons in a year for using water for irrigation.
Now, they will have to pay Rs 50 for one crop and Rs 100 for two crops in a year as water usage charges.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Amarjit Singh Dullet, chief engineer, Punjab irrigation department, said, “We will prepare a proposal to waive off the abiana pending with farmers in the state.”
Arwinder Singh Sohal, executive engineer, the irrigation department, said the notification has been issued on the collection of ‘abiana’ by the irrigation department recently.
He said societies will be formed comprising two department officials and a private individual for this purpose.
Seeking anonymity, a senior official of irrigation department said the department issued a notification last week. The decision in this regard was taken during a meeting with the chief engineer, executive engineers and sub-divisional magistrate among others.
He said as per the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in July this year, abiana worth crores was yet to be recovered from users of canal water in the state. The revenue department had not been making any effort to collect ‘abiana’, he further said.
He said the canal department had not been getting funds from the government for development works and many of its canal renovation and rehabilitation projects could not start for a long time.
He said work on the rehabilitation project of 800-km Bist-Doab canal was also hanging fire and it had missed several deadlines to get started for want of funds, but no to avail.
He further said as revenue officials were not visiting fields to collect funds from farmers as a result of which they had no funds for executing basic works of cleaning canal, drains and distributaries.
Mahinder Singh Dosanjh, a farmer, said, “It is a good move by the government and we hope funds will be used for completing basic cleaning of canals, drains and distributaries so that farmers can also get more water for irrigation.”