Reyaz Rashid

Farmers aghast at being asked to pay irrigation tax abolished by govt in 2015

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Srinagar: Even as the government of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir had abolished the ‘Aabiyana’ (irrigation or water tax) in 2015, now the Department of Irrigation and Flood Control is asking farmers to pay the same.

On 15-10-2015, Director Finance, PHE, I&FC Department, vide order no: PW/Hyd/Acctts/B.A/2015-16 communicated to Chief Engineer I&FC, Kashmir and Chief Engineer RTIC, Jammu, that ‘Aabiyana’ has been abolished as per Budget Cabinet decision 2015.

“As per Budget Cabinet Decision 2015, Aabiyana has been abolished and it does not pertain to 2015-16 period only, but thereafter too. However, the previous outstanding on this account is to be recovered as there is no mention of abolition/remission of the same in the budget announcement,” the communication makes it very clear.

Later, the then Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control Srinagar while endorsing the order of Director Finance PHE/Irrigation and Flood Control  issued a public notice vide no: 17569-600 dated 14-11-15 which declared, “From 2015-2016, there would be no Aabiayana (water tax) levied from farmers in future but outstanding Aabiyana upto  31-03-2015 is to be realized from farmers.”

The decision, at that moment, was hailed by the farmers of Jammu and Kashmir who had been under financial stress for decades due to situational uncertainty.

However, on 11-08-2020, a public notice was issued by the Chief Engineer Irrigation & Flood Control saying that the 2015 abolition order “has no legal standing” and that it is the State Water Resources Regulatory Authority (SWRRA) alone than can take any such decision.

The public notice asked the farmers to pay the Aabiyana dues from 2015 till date failing which “under the section 92 of Jammu and Kashmir Water Resources Regulation and Management Act 2010, action will be taken against the defaulters.”

When contacted, the then Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control Srinagar Iftiakar Kakroo, who had issued the notice in 2020,  said that the circular was issued as per the communication of J&K SWRRA vide no: JKSWRRA/2019/T- 44/647-53 Dated: 08/02/2019 clearing that the water usage (Aabiyana) may be levied as per standard procedure of J&K SWRRA and the authority has not dispensed with the levy of these charges.

Now that the concerned authorities, in view of the above mentioned public notification, are forcing the farmers to pay the Aabiyana for all these years, the farmers are wondering what happened to the earlier Cabinet Budget decision of 2015.

“The abolition of Aabiyana in 2015 had come as a big relief to the farmers, however, the fresh directives negating government’s own order have come as a shocker for all of us,” said Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a farmer from a Baramulla village.

Another farmer, Fayaz Ahmad Malik, who is president of Fruit Growers and Dealers Association Baramulla, said that the huge population of Jammu and Kashmir depends upon agriculture as it is the main source of employment and livelihood, and the backbone of the rural economy in the UT.

“Our 80 percent population sustains on agriculture and it contributes an average of 36 percent of State’s GDP. Of the 24.16 lakh hectares of total area under cultivation, about 7,09,795 acres of land is irrigated through canals and other sources for which the Irrigation department charges Abiayana. However in March 2015, the government announced abolition of Aabiayana, which came as a big relief for the poor farmers, but now we are being told that the tax has not been abolished and that we will have to pay for all these years – this is grave injustice,” farmers say.

“We will stage protests across Jammu and Kashmir if the government won’t abide by the budget announcement of 2015 and no farmer will pay the waived off tax,” said a farmer Bashir Ahmad Dar of Anantnag.

Chairman JK United Kissan Front Mohinder Singh Khalsa told ‘Kashmir Images’ over phone that the “present regime is acting as tyrant, which won’t be tolerated”.

“We won’t allow this suppression of farmers as the water tax was abolished by cabinet and an announcement was made in budget of 2015. How could a chief engineer or any regulatory authority over rule the cabinet decision?” the farmers’ leader asked.

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