Saturday July 13, 2024

High tube well bills dash farmers’ hopes of low water pumping cost

By Munawar Hasan
August 20, 2022

LAHORE: All-time high tube well power bills have wreaked havoc on the viability of farming, dashing growers’ hopes of low water pumping cost in the lean period.

“My tube well usage was much lower in the month of June this year due to more than sufficient rains so I was expecting a fairly reasonable power bill in July, but to my utter shock, they sent me a Rs119,400 power bill,” said a visibly perturbed Ejaz Rao, a progressive farmer from Bahawalpur.

“My ordeal did not end here as it was traumatising to note that electricity charges in this bill stood at only Rs8,252, while a staggering Rs105,478 was added on account of Fuel Price Adjustment.”

Such a high cost was not bearable even for a large scale farmer like him, he said and recalled that his last July electricity bill was only Rs56,353.

“It is cruel and unacceptable. This year, input cost has been quite high as prices of fertilisers, pesticides, seeds, machinery, diesel etc have gone through the roof. It looks like the rainy spells were godsend to make things a bit easier for us,” he observed.

“I was thinking that nature has provided a relief to farmers in terms of above-normal rains after the initial drought period in the ongoing Kharif season, requiring much less use of tube wells for irrigation purposes.”

Rao, however, regretted that despite consuming just 881 units, he got a power bill of over one hundred thousand rupees.

When contacted, a senior official of the Ministry of Energy (Power Division) commented that power bills being dispatched to farmers in the month of July included fuel price adjustment (FPA) calculated on usage in the month of May.

“The FPA, being charged in July, was actually calculated on the electricity used in the month of May when drought conditions were at their peak,” the official said.

He attributed this to expensive imported fuels, including natural gas, coal, furnace oil, and diesel.

He (the farmer) was right but others were also not wrong, the official said, adding that the high cost of energy was a global phenomenon and was worsened by the Ukraine-Russia war.

It may be noted that tube well water is used both as a primary and secondary source of irrigation by the rural population in addition to canal water. According to Economic Survey 2021-22, as Pakistan has been blessed with a bounty of water resources, the Indus River and its tributaries irrigate 48 million acres of land through one of the world’s largest contiguous Indus Basin Irrigation System, having average annual withdrawal of 101 million acre feet (MAF) water.

On the other hand, it is estimated that approximately 50 MAF groundwater is pumped through 1.285 million tube wells.

Water is essential to meet the food needs of the country's growing population. Rising population, reservoir sedimentation, dwindling river supplies and climate change impacts have put Pakistan’s limited water resources under immense stress. The country is facing severe water stress that is gradually morphing into water scarcity.

According to official statistics, some 4.04 million hectares of land is solely irrigated through tube wells, while 8.51 million hectares of farm land is irrigated with a combination of canal and tube wells out of a total 18.86 million hectares of farm land. Most of these tube wells are powered by electricity.