Bill proposes to impose service charge on irrigationThe existing regulation allows the consumer committees to raise fees from farmers for maintenance of irrigation system
A new bill on irrigation has made the provision that the consumers of the irrigation facilities should pay service charge. If passed by Parliament as it is, the bill will deny irrigation facilities to those who have not paid the fee.
The existing irrigation regulation allows the consumer committees to raise fees from farmers for the management and maintenance of the irrigation system.
But, the fees collected from such committees have not been deposited into the national coffer since the past decade after the interim constitution made the provision that no tax shall be levied and collected except in accordance with the law. In the absence of Irrigation Act, Irrigation Regulation guides the activities related to this facility.
“The consumer committees were raising fee from farmers until the interim constitution was promulgated in 2007,” said Sagar Kumar Rai, joint secretary at the Irrigation Ministry. “They are still raising the fees, but the government has not got any portion of that after the interim constitution introduced the ‘no tax’ provision.”
This has left the maintenance works of the big infrastructure projects in a sorry state, according to ministry officials. “The cost of maintenance has been on the rise and is likely to go upwards of Rs1 billion this year too,” said Rai.
According to him, the government has not allocated adequate budget for maintenance works—the responsibility traditionally lies with the consumer committees. The ministry has been allocating a certain budget to the Department of Irrigation for the purpose.
The irrigation bill, registered at the parliamentary secretariat, has made the three-tier provision for sustainable management of irrigation facilities.
At the lower level, there will be water consumer committee which will be responsible for preserving the irrigation facilities, repairing and maintaining them, keeping records of irrigation facility users and raising service fees from them.
The second one deals with the formation of Irrigation Facility Management Committee for the operation of bigger irrigation projects except those having technically complex infrastructure. Both the committees have been authorised to create a fund which will have resources collected from irrigation service charge. But, the management committee can get additional funding from the national and international institutions.
There will be another structure ‘Irrigation Development Fund’ at the central level. It will get funding from the government, national and international institutions, income generated through the investment of the resources with the fund and other sectors.
The bill has also paved the way for a private sector participation in construction, operation and management of irrigation facilities.
The government can involve the private sector in the field if any irrigation project or the multi-purpose projects are feasible to operate commercially. The government has also been authorised to involve the private sector in survey, construction, operation, management and maintenance of a project or all of them.
“This is for the first time that the bill has provisioned of involving the private sector,” said Rai. To be eligible, a public limited company with participation of the government, local water consumer committee, the bill states.
The bill has also allowed the government to declare a certain area as irrigated zone where non-agricultural activities will be prohibited.