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A PUNJABI HOUSEHOLD AND ITS BIJLI PANI STORY
HONEST CONSUMER SUFFERS; IN PUNJAB POWER PLAY CAN BE DEFINED AS BIJLI CHORI, SINAZORI AND MUFT KHORI
When Greek philosopher Socrates tried to define justice, he asked the question in a gathering of Sophists. Justice is the interest of the stronger, said Thrasymachus.
Yes, it is. If we look at the justification behind free power to farmers, Thrasymachus logic is perfect. Big farmers represent the interests of the stronger in the state. No party can form a government without their support. They are the brokers of power at the most grass root level.
Very large majority of sarpanches are either big farmers or their puppets. Rural folk vote according to their dictate. Punjab politics is basically a village politics accidently played at planned city Chandigarh. Agriculture acts as the mental horizon of policy makers in Punjab. It should be remembered that a big farmer in Punjab is not something like a Zamindar or feudal lord. He is defined by heavily mechanized capital intensive farming.
Contradicting Thrasymacus, Glaucon says that justice is the interest of the weaker. Since weaker do not have enough strength, they have created the idea of something like justice.
In the case of small farmers, this argument is also true. All free farm power is sustained in the name of small farmers. Small farmers shall be driven into further indebtedness and poverty if free power is withdrawn. Justice is making a perfect balance in Punjab where the interests of both stronger and weaker (farmer) is served with free power. Now who is at loss? When a ship sinks, all poor and rich passengers sink together. Rich farmer’s children are leaving Punjab. Poor farmer’s children are also leaving Punjab.
Current number of Punjab households can fulfill their water needs for 27 years with the same amount of water which is used for producing paddy in one season. And nothing can stop paddy in Punjab if free farm power continues.
We have seen that free power, like justice, serves the interest of both stronger and weaker (farmers in this case). At the same time costly power purchasing agreements are bleeding the Punjab treasury. And Power theft is a big menace. According to The Tribune report by Aman Sood (April 7, 2021), in Tarn Taran, Bhikhiwind and Patti, PSPCL had faced losses (primarily due to power theft) of 79.14, 67.36 and 45.64 per cent respectively.
Honest consumer suffers; In Punjab, power play can be defined as bijli chori, sinazori and muft-khori. Power theft is rampant practice and PSPCL has adopted many childish practices to curb it, like putting meters in public places. Majority of Punjabi households seem to be living examples of inventor Tesla’s dream who did not want power supply to be metered.
Most dangerous thing about free power for farmers is that it is like an attempt to fill a bottomless pit. Three factors make it worrisome:
When free farm power was introduced, a very large majority of tubewells were powered by centrifugal motors, which consumed less power and pumped out less water. These were normal beasts. Then came, the big shift: Submersible motors, popularly known as Macchi replaced these. These motors consume double power and pump enormous volumes of water. Power was free when motors were downsized, power was free when motors were oversize. If Punjab govt cannot stop free power, it should at least put a cap on horsepower of the motor.
But how will it have any idea on horsepower of 1.4 million motors, when it has no updated KYC of such tubewell connections. It has a database about connections issued to original consumers. But are they dead or alive? Are they citizens of India or migrated to some other country? Land may have been sold or transferred or divided. PSPCL cannot produce the names of current consumers of free farm power who are farmers in the real sense. It is double whammy for Punjab tax payers. It is like robbing Pal to pay a fictitious Peter. In some cases, Punjab taxpayers are paying for power bills of those big farmers who are living abroad.
Since farm power is free and uninterrupted, farmers are not much interested in canal water. Some water channels are found in land records, but now they are part of private lands. One may call it encroachment.
Due to free farm power, 97% of annual net extracted ground water in Punjab is used for irrigation. According to Anju Agnihotri Chaba’s report in Indian Express published on July 13, 2019, Mansa district uses 99.9% of ground water irrigation. Crops have it all. If a family has to survive on one hundred glasses of water per day, see how it is using this water? It uses 97 glasses for watering its plants, one glass of water for drinking purposes, one glass for cooking, washing, building, cleaning and the last one glass for running its machines. Please don’t laugh if you find this family’s water habits strange. You are part of this family, if you live in Punjab.