Punjab’s water cess collection marred by corruption, hierarchy of influentials

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The Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA) is unable to recover or collect abiana (water cess) from farmers to meet its target, as most of the farmers are unwilling to pay the tax even after the lapse of deadline of August 31.

According to officials in the PIDA, many farmers who had taken water to irrigate their crops are not willing to cooperate with the Authority which had also formed different farmers’ organisations (FOs) for fair water distribution and to contain water theft.

The officials, however, said that there had been major lapses in formation of the farmers’ organisations. They added that the election process for the FOs was tainted and most of the chairmen elected were either influential persons or enjoyed their patronage.

The defaulting farmers were also taking support from corrupt patwaris (revenue officials), added the sources, who requested not to be named.

The major hurdlers in collection of the water cess are the old administrative hierarchy and influential persons, who according to the officials, were in a habit of looking the other way at the time of collection of tax.

They further said that yearly record showed that influential landlords were always using the means, such as corrupt FOs, to avoid paying water cess. They added that representation of small cultivators in these FOs was next to nothing.

It may be mentioned that keeping in view the fact that population growth had increased and farmers were not relying on only two crops, farmer organisations were increased from one area water board to five.

At the beginning, only 84 farmers’ organisations were formed but now there are more than 300 FOs working in different areas of Punjab: LCC (East), LCC (West), LJC Sargodha, DJC Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalnagar and LBDC Sahiwal.

According to the officials, there was one flat rate for water and those farmers who were deprived of water availability due to water theft and other reasons had also to give abiana.

In LCC (East), collection of 66 per cent abiana has been made against the net assessed abiana of 1,862.661; 71 per cent in LCC (West) against the target of 1,059.429; 93 per cent against the target of 83.573 in LJC Sargodha; only 27 per cent in area of DJC, DG Khan against the assessed tax of 299.445; 70 per cent in Bahawalnagar against the set target of 760.576; and 47 per cent abiana against the set target of 646.389 in LBDC Sahiwal.