The Punjab Irrigation Department has implemented a substantial 5x increase in water rates (abiana) and introduced levies for various crops during the ongoing Rabi season.
As per a notification issued by the Irrigation Secretary on December 5, the governor revised the water rates under sections 49 and 136 of the Punjab Irrigation, Drainage and Rivers Act, 2023, reported a national daily.
This adjustment supersedes the previous Notification No (SO (Rev) PR/12-70/21(All-CSs)-878 dated April 4, 2023.
Under the revised water rate schedule, rice growers face the highest rate of Rs. 2,000 per acre, followed by Rs. 1,600 per acre for sugarcane growers, and Rs. 1,200 per acre for vegetable and maize cultivators.
Cotton and orchard growers are assigned Rs. 1,000 per acre, while cultivators of wheat, pulses, fodder, and oil seeds must pay Rs. 400 per acre. Gram cultivators face a lower water rate of Rs. 200 per acre.
The additional water rate for sanctioned garden supplies is fixed at Rs. 2,000 per acre, and for state-owned lift irrigation, it is Rs. 2,250 per acre.
Historically, crop and season-wise water rates were in practice since the Mughal era until a flat water rate was introduced by the Punjab government in 2003. The rates were revised upwards in 2021 to Rs. 400 per acre per year for low-water allowance soils and Rs. 550 for high-water allowance soils.
A senior official, requesting anonymity, disclosed that the annual revenue generation through water rates is around Rs. 4.4 billion, significantly less than the over Rs. 25 billion per year maintenance cost of the irrigation infrastructure in the province.
The official believes that the new water rate system if fully recovered, could at least cover the maintenance cost.
However, implementing the new system requires biannual updates to girdawari and crop inspection registers, documenting every crop in every Khasra number (per acre) after a spot visit by the Patwari in the presence of the Lambardar (village headman) and other concerned individuals.
Regrettably, the field staff (Patwaris) of the irrigation department has neglected to update these records for many years.
The revised water rate report has triggered concern within the farming community. Farmers like Minhaj Hotiana from Pakpattan express worries about the limited irrigation time, especially for water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane.
They question how the department will ensure additional water supply for these crops when subjected to higher abiana rates.
In response, an irrigation official clarified that the water rate encompasses not only the supply of canal water but also subsoil water extracted for irrigation purposes.
The higher rates for certain crops imply that users, whether owners or tenants, must pay for subsoil water extraction, particularly for water-intensive crops like rice, sugarcane, and maize.
Source: Pro Pakistani