Small tea growers criticise electricity demand chargesTea farmers allege that the Nepal Electricity Authority has made the tariff regulations without having an adequate study of the industry.
Nepal Electricity Authority's decision to impose demand charges for small tea growers equal to big industrial players has affected farmers in eastern Nepal.
The demand charges are based on the highest level of electricity an individual customer demands at one time during the billing period.
For years, farmers have been using electricity under the agricultural irrigation facilities that provide electricity to farmers at a reduced price.
The National Tea Policy 2000 has mentioned tea as an agricultural product.
The policy says that a subsidised tax rate, equivalent to other agricultural sectors, will be applied while importing irrigation equipment for tea plantations.
The government will prioritise the development of road connectivity, irrigation, electricity, telecommunication, education, health and other basic infrastructure in the tea sector, according to the policy.
However, the Nepal Electricity Authority has excluded the tea sector from its priority list. It has placed it under agriculture-based industries in Electricity Tariff Collection Regulations, 2022.
The authority has categorised the plantations associated with cooperatives as a rural and domestic industry, while plantations registered as a company are seen as a small-scale industry in the regulation.
Similarly, the authority is also imposing demand charges for tea estates spread over 10 kattha (36,450 sq ft) of land.
According to Rajmani Bajgain, chief of Nepal Electricity Authority Bhadrapur distribution centre, the tea sector now being categorised as rural and domestic industries has to pay Rs60 per kVA every month as demand charges and Rs7.80 per unit of electricity.
Previously the electricity rate was Rs3.60 per unit.
Similarly, plantations enlisted as small-scale industries by the regulation now have to pay Rs110 per kVA every month as a demand fee and Rs9.60 per unit of electricity consumed.
“The new tariff rate has made it difficult to sustain tea farming,” said Keshav Mainali, a local of Haldibari Rural Municipality-3. “We have the plantation in just 2 to 4 bigha, how can we be categorised as an industry ?”
He demanded the authority revoke the new tariff rate and apply the same rate in the other agricultural sectors.
Parbat Dangi, another local stated, “The plantation doesn’t require irrigation for seven to eight months, but we still have to pay the demand fee for that duration too.”
“This provision has made small plantation owners worried.”
Farmers allege that the electricity authority has made the regulations without having an adequate understanding of tea farming.
“The provision of demand fee and hiked electricity charge for tea plantations isn’t relevant,” said Chandi Parajuli, former president of Nepal Tea Producers’ Association. “We condemn the act of hindering irrigation in tea plantations.”
The team of farmers had also submitted a memorandum to Rajendra Lingden, the then minister of energy, water resources and irrigation.