Providing subsidised power and similar incentives to farmers is a major talking point for any political party. However, an announcement by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that farmers should not pay their electricity bills if they felt the amount was inflated has created a controversy, with the opposition Congress demanding that such a relaxation be extended to common consumers also.
Chouhan was speaking at a public meeting in Badarwas village in Shivpuri district on Wednesday. He declared that there was no need for framers to pay their electricity dues if they felt that the bills were inflated. He said the power distribution company would hold special camps to settle their bills.
Reacting sharply to the declaration, which has the potential to disrupt the entire power scenario in the state, Congress state president Arun Yadav asked the chief minister to extend a similar scheme to common consumers who were reeling under the brunt of high power charges.
As the announcement, reported by a section of media, reached other parts of the state, farmers expressed happiness. However, officials of the state electricity board, which operates through four holding companies, refused to speak on the subject.
Madhya Pradesh has the highest cost for per unit of electricity compared with other states even as it was the state that produced the most power in the country. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had recently said in Bhopal that in Delhi consumers had to pay Rs 463 for a bill of 200 units, while in MP, people paid Rs 1,300 for the same amount of electricity consumed. He asked why there was a huge gap when Delhi was not a power-producing state, while Madhya Pradesh was.
Chouhan's declaration came at a time when the BJP had lost two assembly byelections consecutively. His announcement was made in the Assembly constituency of Kolaras where byelections are due in the next two months. According to Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi, “The BJP chief minister is in desperation to win the two coming bypolls of Kolaras and Mungawali.”
Incidentally, the two Assembly constituencies fall in the Lok Sabha area of senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. Scindia said, “The BJP is announcing these measures as poll promise while farmers are being harassed at the hands of police and local administration.”
Meanwhile, during Chouhan's public meeting, police had to resort to mild force when farmers got agitated when they were not allowed to meet the chief minister. Later, Chouhan cancelled all his programs and stayed back in Kolaras to hear the complaints of farmers.
The chief minister said that government would provide all possible assistance to farmers to tackle the situation in drought-affected areas of Shivpuri district. He said a special package under MNREGA would be given to provide employment to the poor and labourers.
He promised farmers that tubewells and hand pumps would be installed to combat water scarcity while the farmers whose outstanding interest on bank loans was more than the principle amount would be given relief by waiving off their interest payment. Such farmers would also be given the concession to pay principle amount in eight to 10 instalments. Chouhan distributed documents providing aid amounting to Rs 31.34 crore to 14,102 farmers under the Bhavantar Bhugtan scheme.