Rice cultivation in the Barind tract is likely to get expensive for farmers with the Northern Electricity Supply Company Limited (Nesco) charging extra for supplying power to irrigation pumps.
Nesco is charging 100 to 150 percent more than the tariff set by the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission, local farmers have said.
This hike will cause irrigation costs to double and farmers – who are already struggling with low paddy prices – will bear the brunt of it.
Nesco, which distributes electricity in Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions, however, denied the allegation, saying it is not overcharging farmers.
High officials of the company said they had increased the tariff as the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA), owner of the irrigation pumps, had misused the equipment.
They said electricity connection is for extracting water for irrigation, but the BMDA had been using power to run pumps for the supply of drinking water too.
The farmers in the Barind tract are getting water to irrigate farmlands from the water pumps of the BMDA, a government agency under the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for the development of the tract.
As many as 5,000 farmers have been using these pumps to irrigate their 4,220 hectares of land since 2005.
There are about 714 pumps which have been in use to irrigate lands for crop cultivation. Of these, 235 pumps run on grid electricity supplied by Nesco.
Until May this year, the cost of a kilowatt of electricity used for irrigation was Tk4.
But from June, Nesco increased the tariff by putting consumers under the "commercial" category. It is now charging Tk8.05 per kilowatt of power and Tk10.6 during peak hours, which is 100 to 150 percent higher.
The company is adamant about not revising the tariff as it says it has received complaints that the pumps have been used for extracting drinking water besides irrigation.
"The BMDA has been making profits by supplying drinking water which is a commercial activity. But it is paying electricity bills under the "irrigation" category, which is not fair," Md Khairul Amin, chief engineer of Nesco's Rajshahi zone, told The Business Standard.
However, the BMDA denied the allegation and urged Nesco to give the matter a fair consideration. Nesco has not reviewed its decision.
BMDA officials said they use separate pumps for extracting irrigation water and drinking water.
"We brought the issue to their [Nesco] attention but till now we have not had any positive response. If the price is not corrected, expenditures for the farmers will increase," said Moniruzzaman Moni, executive engineer of the BMDA.
Due to the tariff hike, the irrigation cost on a bigha of land will go up to Tk1,600-1,700 from the previous Tk930-970, according to farmers in the Godagari area.
"We have even been incurring losses under the previous tariff. Now if the tariff increases, we will not survive. There will be nothing to do other than quitting cultivation," said Shadat Hossain, a farmer in Basudevpur village of Godagari.
"After paying the costs of fertiliser, pesticides and seeds, farmers get nothing from cultivation. Moreover, the dwindling price of paddy makes the job more difficult," said Naimul Haque, a farmer in Diagram village.
Mizanur Rahman, member (power) of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission, said electricity distributors are not allowed to increase tariffs set by the commission.
"If a distributor does so, that will be illegal. We will take proper action if a victim files a case in this connection," he added.