Poor monsoon threatens Karnataka’s free power for farmers plan

July 16th, 2008 - 12:27 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

Bangalore, July 16 (IANS) A poor monsoon may derail the promise of free electricity to small farmers, a promise made recently by B.S. Yeddyurappa, Karnataka’s first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister. Yeddyurappa has promised a pro-farmer budget; part of that promise is free power to farmers using up to 10 horse power irrigation pump sets.

The budget session of the assembly starts Thursday. This will be Yeddyurappa’s third budget. He had presented two budgets as deputy chief minister and finance minister in the BJP-Janata Dal-Secular coalition government in 2006 and 2007.

“If the monsoon continues to be weak and reservoirs do not fill up, it will be difficult to supply free power to farmers though we want to keep our word,” said D.H. Shankara Murthy, depty chairman of the state planning board, a permanent invitee to cabinet meetings.

“Load shedding (disruption in power supply) is inevitable if rains fail,” said Power Minister K.S. Eshwarappa.

Except in coastal Karnataka, rainfall has been poor in the rest of the state, particularly in the northern parts. According to the meteorological department, the northern parts have received only 74.1 mm of rainfall between June 1 and July 9 whereas normal rainfall for this period is 129.7 mm.

Southern parts of the state (south interior Karnataka) are slightly better off, receiving 160.9 mm rain as against the normal 204.9 mm for this period. Coastal Karnataka has received 1,025.5 mm while the normal rainfall for the period is 1,257.9 mm.

The state government is already talking in terms of declaring several parts of the state as drought-hit as monsoon continues to play truant. Yeddyurappa has told state officials to wait till July 20 to see whether monsoon revives and then decide which district to be classified as hit by drought.

A perennially power-deficit state, Karnataka will face severe power shortage if the monsoon fails, for the first time in four years. For the last three years the state has received normal rainfall, after three consecutive drought years.

The effect of scanty rains on the power situation is already being felt in India’s IT hub and across the state. Unscheduled power disruptions in Bangalore and other places have become a daily affair, with several areas in the state capital going without power for hours together.

Monday saw the worst power situation so far since the start of the monsoon in early June. Two hydroelectric power stations stopped generation for a few hours to conserve water and one unit of the thermal power station at Raichur in north Karnataka tripped, plunging many areas in Bangalore and the state into darkness in the evening.

Added to the misery of Bangaloreans was a sudden downpour, accompanied by heavy winds, lightning and thunder which too disrupted connections in many areas of the city.

Yeddyurappa, who took oath on May 30 as BJP’s first chief minister in Karnataka and also in southern India, rarely misses an opportunity to proclaim that he is the son of a humble farmer. But he is already under attack from farmers’ organisations.

Soon after the new government took over, farmers held protests in several areas over fertilizer and seeds shortage, debt burden and other problems. Sugarcane growers have been agitating for years now for increase in the price of cane and timely payment from sugar factories for their produce. Yeddyurappa has promised a hike, which is likely to be announced in the budget.

In the run up to the budget, Yeddyurappa has been meeting farmers’ representatives in several districts and promising to tailor the budget to their needs. He is likely to keep most of his promises to farmers but a failing monsoon makes it extremely difficult for him to offer free power - a long-standing demand of farmers in the state.

With most of his time devoted to pacifying the agitated farmers, there is no indication on what the chief minister intends to offer India’s IT hub whose crumbling infrastructure too is in dire need of priority attention. Bangalore has given BJP 16 legislators out of 28 the city and its surrounding rural areas have in the assembly.

Yeddyurappa has sought a Rs.15 billion special grant from the central government to upgrade Bangalore’s infrastructure over the next four years.

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