The Indian Express – Sustainable Agriculture: Punjab has a new plan to move farmers away from water-guzzling paddy

A promising DBT initiative that incentivises efficient tubewell power use and checks groundwater depletion

Anju Agnihotri Chaba

Jalandhar-Panjab-India, 15 February 2018. For two decades or more, successive governments have tried weaning away farmers in Punjab from growing paddy. Their efforts have borne little fruit, as the area under this water-guzzling crop has only gone up from 11.83 lakh hectares in 1980-81 to 20.15 lakh in 1990-91, 26.12 lakh in 2000-01 and 30.46 lakh in 2016-17.

The primary culprit here has been free power supply to farmers. It has led to groundwater overdraft and incentivising cultivation of paddy over maize, cotton, groundnut and other less water-intensive crops (which also don’t benefit from minimum support price-based state procurement).

The policy to not charge for electricity used in farm pump-sets was initiated in February 1997 by the then Shiromani Akali Dal government under Parkash Singh Badal.

The Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress regime, which took over in 2002, introduced a nominal flat tariff of Rs 60 per BHP (British horsepower) for unmetered agricultural connections and Rs 0.57 per unit (kilowatt-hours) on metered electricity.

But there was hardly any recovery from farmers. The subsequent Badal administration, in January 2010, again levied a flat Rs 50-per-BHP tariff for agricultural producers, only to withdraw it 10 months later.

The end-result: The number of electric tubewell pump-sets in Punjab zoomed from around 28,000 to 79,400 between 1980-81 and 2000-01, and further to 11.06 lakh in 2010-11 and 13.5 lakh by 2016-17. Today, 112 out of the state’s 138 blocks fall under the “dark zone”, with over-exploited, critical or semi-critical groundwater resources.

The only worthwhile initiative in recent times has been the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act of 2009, which bars any nursery sowing and transplanting of paddy during the peak summer before May 15 and June 15, respectively.

But more promising is an experiment, launched as a pilot project in three villages of Fatehgarh Sahib, Chaur Wala, Bhamarsi and Bhagrana, by the current Amarinder Singh dispensation.

Under it, digital meters will be installed on the tubewells belonging to 990 farmers of the said villages.

But the interesting part is that the state government, instead of compensating the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) for its supplying electricity free of cost, will make a direct benefit transfer (DBT) of Rs 48,000 to each of the chosen farmers’ bank accounts.

These farmers would, in turn, have to clear their dues to the PSPCL from the DBT amounts credited, based on the actual number of units consumed.

“We will provide a fixed annual DBT subsidy of Rs 48,000 per tubewell. If a farmer’s electricity bill against the tubewell connection turns out lower, he will be allowed to retain the surplus amount,” said Manpreet Singh Badal, Punjab’s Finance Minister.

Farmers, according to him, may gain monetarily, as their tubewell power bills are likely to be within the Rs 48,000 cash subsidy being transferred.

Punjab has roughly 5,900 rural electricity feeders, supplying eight hours of uninterrupted power to the state’s 13.5 lakh tubewells during the paddy cropping season (from June 15 to September 30) and 3-4 hours for the rest of the year. The tubewells have mostly motors with power rating between 7.5 and 12 BHP.

The subsidy payable to PSPCL is calculated by taking the number of units consumed by the state’s tubewell pump-sets and multiplying this with the tariff for agricultural power. The latter is now fixed at Rs 5.06 per unit, while the annual consumption per tubewell is reckoned at 8,000-9,000 units.

“There’s no clear estimate of how many units farmers are really consuming. The numbers we have are based on supply from the feeders and not at the point of consumption.

Also, while about a fifth of the state’s tubewells have electricity meters, the fact that farmers aren’t paying for the power could be overstating their actual agricultural consumption requirement,” admitted a PSPCL official.

Even assuming consumption at 9,000 units, the resultant power bill of Rs 45,540 would be less than the DBT subsidy of Rs 48,000.

The Punjab government has signed an MoU with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research centre affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for the DBT project.

J-PAL — along with experts from the World Bank, Punjab Agricultural University and the state’s agriculture, irrigation and soil conservation departments — will undertake a study of actual power use by farmers and how it might change once they start paying out of a fixed DBT subsidy credited to their bank accounts.

“We believe they will cut down on consumption, as there is an incentive now to save as much as possible from the Rs 48,000 amount. The tendency to waste is higher when you get something free without any upper cap.

All this will ultimately promote more judicious use of groundwater. The farmer may even shift to growing crops that require less water,” noted Jasbir Singh Bains, Punjab’s Director of Agriculture.

The Punjab government plans to take up the new project from the coming kharif season. “We will install the special meters on all the 990 tubewells by early May, before the start of paddy nursery sowings. This would enable monitoring of consumption right through the agricultural season,” added the earlier quoted PSPCL official.

For the state government, there may be no financial savings as such from the DBT project. Even if the fixed amount of Rs 48,000 is extended to all the 13.5 lakh tubewells, the outgo of Rs 6,480 crore is what it is anyway shelling out as power subsidy to PSPCL.

Farmers’ organisations are, however, viewing the latest initiative with suspicion. “Their real agenda is to discontinue the power subsidy for agriculture. DBT is only a step in that direction. Amarinder Singh’s government has already washed it hands off the Congress party’s Assembly election promise to waive farm loans.

They are restricting this at present only to cooperative bank loans of up to Rs 2 lakh to marginal farmers,” alleged Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda Group).

Sustainable Agriculture: Punjab has a new plan to move farmers away from water-guzzling paddy

Advertisements – NIA seeks to transfer Jagtar Singh Jaggi to Tihar Jail; Seeks 90 day remand extension

Free Jaggi Now !

London-UK, 14 February 2018. The NIA has submitted a 100 page report in a sealed envelope, expecting to be granted a full 90 day remand extension. However the judge was not pleased with the representations from the prosecutors and their lack of respect when addressing the judge.

Three NIA prosecutors were talking over each other when addressing the judge, and seemed confused as to their arguments.

Strong arguments were made on behalf of Jaggi to oppose the extension. The NIA fully expected to receive a decision today. The judge has stated she will give her decision on Wednesday 14th February. It is expected that ultimately the judge will grant the NIA request as the Indian judiciary has shown a clear bias in every case so far.

The NIA have also filed an application to be granted an order to transfer Jaggi and the other Singhs to Tihar jail in Delhi. A reply to the transfer order will be given on 15th February 2018.

Jaggi will appear in court for the 26th time on 14th February to find out the outcome of the remand extension application by the NIA.

The NIA wish to assert their authority by moving Jaggi and the other Singhs away from their lawyers and families. This tactic of relocating Sikh prisoners to jails outside of Punjab has been used repeatedly by the Indian state in order to subject families, prisoners, and their lawyers to further hardship by putting a drain on all their resources.

Den Haag Viaductweg & Escamplaan

26 December 2017

Canal, footpath, road underneath railwayline

Coot and mute swan

Coots and mute swan


28 December 2017

Tram 6 to Leidensenhage and Leidschendam Noord

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Huffington Post – Sikh activist’s campaign a reminder that love can be a force for justice

“The greatest social movements in history were rooted in the ethic of love,” says Valarie Kaur.

Carol Kuruvilla

Religion, 14 February 2018. On Valentine’s Day, love is typically celebrated as an intense, personal feeling, an intimate, romantic bond that ties two humans together. But a Sikh American activist wants to challenge people to think about love in much more expansive terms.

Valarie Kaur, a lawyer and a longtime interfaith organizer, believes love can be used as a force for social justice. She points to the examples of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, whom she said used love to ground their social movements.

“I believe … that the greatest social movements in history were rooted in the ethic of love,” the 37-year-old told the Huffington Post.

On Wednesday, Kaur teamed up with other activists to launch a social media effort that she hopes will encourage people to “reclaim love” as a force for good in the world during a time of increased polarization.

She’s enlisted the help of others interested in tackling rising white nationalism and hate during the presidency of Donald Trump, CNN host Van Jones, founder of the activist organization #LoveArmy, the organizers of the Women’s March, and Our Three Winners, a foundation created to honor three Muslim students who were killed in a shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2015.

The #ReclaimLove campaign is a “cultural intervention,” Kaur said, that seeks to unite a divided America.

“Last year we saw an onslaught of executive orders, Muslim bans, border walls, pipelines, budget cuts, hate crimes. We barely had a chance to breathe between the crises,” she said. “But we know that unless we ground our resistance in love, unless we ground our movement in love, we will burn out or we will become the very thing that we are resisting.”

Dozens of social media users have chimed in to support Kaur’s campaign online.

Kaur’s work as an activist began years ago. She was deeply affected when a close family friend, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was killed in a hate crime days after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The injustice of Sodhi’s death inspired Kaur, a California native, to seek out ways to increase interfaith understanding and solidarity. For years, the Sikh American woman worked as a filmmaker and an activist who sought to bring awareness to the discrimination faced by marginalized groups in the USA.

Then, the 2016 presidential election happened. Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims experienced an increase in hate crimes and rhetoric during the election at levels similar to those that followed the 2001 attacks.

She began to think that the world she was going to leave her young son would be much more dangerous than the one she inherited. Kaur wrestled with those feelings in a sermon she preached during an interfaith service at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, in December 2016.

She sought to approach these issues from the lens of a feminist and a woman of color, comparing the work of those fighting against white supremacy and hate to the struggles of a mother in labor. A video of her sermon went viral online last year.

In a Ted Talk released on February 9, Kaur outlined three ways that she believes “revolutionary love” can be put into action. First, she advised, love others by seeing no other human beings as strangers.

Second, love opponents by tending to their wounds, or in other words, looking for what has hurt them. Lastly, she said it was important to “love ourselves” and seek out joy in times of darkness.

“If we can cultivate love in the directions that we’re missing, not just toward others but also to our opponents and toward ourselves as well, then we can last,” she said. “Not only just outlast this administration, then we can start to imagine birthing a different future for our children.”

Dawn – Who’s afraid of Asma Jahangir?

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 14 February 2018. Though small in stature, Asma Jahangir stood tall against the usurpers and bigots who were her biggest nemesis. They were scared of her. Her relentless fight for justice and for the rights of the people made those in power uneasy.

Her fearlessness made them shudder. Her quest for regional peace earned her the wrath of the warmongers.

She was the conscience of a nation that has produced few icons whom the people can look towards for inspiration. In her death the country may have lost its bravest soul and a fearless street fighter, but her legacy lives on. The principles Asma stood for and the causes she championed are very much alive.

Therefore, it is not surprising that while her passing is being mourned across the region and religious divide, there are also some who have not spared her even in death. The kind of filth spewed against her in the social media reflects a sickening mindset of powerful interest groups who were challenged by Asma.

They ran a concerted campaign against her when she was alive, but this campaign has become even more vicious after her death. They are afraid of the legacy of struggle she has left behind. She was among the few Pakistanis who also won international acclaim for her struggle for human rights.

Asma’s courage has been recognised here and abroad, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by regressive forces.

Indeed, religion and patriotism are two major weapons in their arsenal that they use in their venomous propaganda campaign against her. There is certainly nothing new about this. They know they can’t attack her for her struggle for democracy and justice.

Hence these issues come in handy. The adage that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ fits well in this case.

There is no mystery about who is spearheading this social media campaign. What is, however, more disconcerting is how young minds are being polluted in the name of nationalism and patriotism by some elements.

Among them are also members of mainstream political parties. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the narrow notion of national security and nationalism can be branded ‘unpatriotic’ by the so-called defenders of our ideological boundaries.

Indeed, Asma relentlessly fought against every military regime and struggled for democracy and civilian supremacy. That certainly did not please the so-called patriotic elements.

Her campaign against forced disappearances and her criticism of security agencies’ role have also been used to question her patriotism. Nothing could be more ridiculous than that.

In fact, her struggle gave hope to the alienated people of Balochistan of getting justice and civil liberties. On her death, Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.”

The remarks also represented the sentiments of the Baloch population towards her for raising a voice for their rights at the national level. She became a symbol of the national unity that our so-called patriots and nationalist chauvinists have never been able to fathom.

And it was not just Balochistan; Asma was there to support any struggle for democratic and civil rights. Her last speech was at the Pakhtun long march in Islamabad.

Organised by a group of Pakhtun students and young activists, the protests triggered by the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a staged police encounter in Karachi last month became a forum for the demonstration of grievances of the population affected by the conflict in the tribal areas.

Hundreds of people are known to have become victims of enforced disappearances. Such a policy cannot help win the hearts and minds of the people who have suffered massive destruction and displacement from their homes.

Those assembled in Islamabad were not militants; they were victims of war in their areas. They were not sure whether the state has really changed its policy of ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’.

That concern is witnessed in many other parts. Asma shared their concerns and anger over indiscriminate action against the Pakhtuns in other parts of the country.

Like many other progressive public figures, Asma had been a strong critic of the disastrous state policy of using militancy as a tool of foreign policy that cost Pakistan massively, both in terms of human lives and the economy.

Asma’s campaign for normalisation of relations with India had also become a major issue for the nationalist brigade. They also used this to question her patriotism.

An old newspaper picture of her with India’s extremist Hindu leader Bal Thackeray resurfaced on social media, though she had met him in her capacity as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion investigating violence against Muslims in India.

What these zealots have forgotten is that Asma also raised her voice against Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir.

She had long been targeted by the extremist Islamist groups for her unrelenting campaign for women rights and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.

This is also being used against her in the latest social media campaign. She was never intimidated by the extremist onslaught despite the serious threat to her life. She never left the country; that demonstrates her courage and fearlessness.

As she said in an interview that whatever she did she never deviated from her core principles; she never sought glory or ever tried to benefit from adversity.

Her courage has certainly been recognised by the people here and by the international community, notwithstanding the vitriol spewed by the forces of regression that are not willing to let go of their obscurantist worldview. These are the same people who glorify murder in the name of faith.

The way Mashal Khan’s murderers were lionised is a horrific manifestation of the rising religious extremism against which Asma stood up.

These are the same elements that have been running a concerted campaign against Malala, another international icon of courage. The young Nobel Prize winner has been accused of being a Western agent. They don’t want to see how these two brave women raised Pakistan’s image.

As one American writer has pointed out, Pakistanis often complain about the bad image of their country being projected in the international media, but they refuse to see what they are doing to those who present the dynamic face of their country. These are the people who are afraid of Asma’s legacy.

The writer is an author and journalist.