The Parched Tiger: How Politics and Electricity in Punjab Combine to Prevent Groundwater Reform

Via Future Directions International, a report on how politics and electricity in Punjab combine to prevent groundwater reform:

The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has stated that groundwater levels in 67 per cent of the Indian state of Punjab have dropped in 65 per cent of wells tested in August 2016, compared to August 2015, according to the Times of India. Across the state, groundwater levels fell by two to four metres. The findings highlight one of the main impediments to groundwater reform in the state: the subsidisation of electricity and its ability to attract votes. In Punjab, the food bowl of India, an electoral victory is difficult to achieve without involving the issue of groundwater and easy access to it. Congress, after being out of power for a decade, is not about to sabotage its return by making electricity and, by extension, water supplies, more costly for Punjabis.


The newly elected Congress Government is targeting farmers in its “something for everybody” manifesto. Farming jobs have declined sharply and the new state government may be attempting to halt the state’s growing unemployment rate by issuing waivers on loans, continuing the total subsidisation of electricity to farms and increasing crop compensation. The significance of the manifesto is how the Congress party has used the agricultural community and the subsidisation of electricity as a means to a political ends. As stated above, the Congress party has been in opposition for ten years, and it intelligently sees a political opportunity to exploit the state’s agricultural identity and dependence on groundwater. Despite average rainfall not meeting the required water needs of paddy fields in the state and that out of the 138 administrative blocks in the state 110 are over-exploited, four are critical and two are semi-critical, Congress has preferred to ignore the need for a long-term solution. This is because free power and access to water is a politically savvy strategy that attracts votes. The party has realised that what people want is access to water that is not going to involve a drastic change to their way of life. Therefore, despite what some analysts believe – that Punjab needs to reform its groundwater polices – the Congress party is reluctant to sacrifice its political victory for reform. A look at the state’s finances reveals the political importance of not forcefully implementing long-term reform.

Punjab’s growing debt and reluctance to engage reform shows how the politicisation of power traps governments in an endless cycle of spending in order to boost the political acumen of the party. The Budget Estimates (BE) of 2016-17 show that the government ran a revenue deficit of 79.83 billion rupees ($1.64 billion), which exceeded the 65 billion rupee ($1.34 billion) revenue debt in 2014-15. This deficit was mainly due to weak revenue receipts and high electricity spending. Now, according to the 2016-17 BE, the state debt is expected to rise because of the government’s promise to continue providing free power to farmers. Power subsidies consume a sizeable amount of the state’s revenue receipts. For example, during the state’s 2016 financial year, power subsidies consumed roughly 12 per cent of the revenue receipts and, during the 2017 financial year, the BE found that 22 per cent of income tax was used to pay for interest payments on these subsidies. Given the decline in revenue receipts, and the government’s plans to increase the subsidisation of power to farmers, one can see how the political importance of keeping groundwater users happy is having a detrimental effect on the economy.

The government is running both fiscal and revenue deficits, which means expenditure must be lowered. This seems unlikely, however, as electricity and elections in India are inextricably linked. Being able to provide it will bring political benefits, however, as has been demonstrated, it forces politicians to pursue costly, crowd pleasing policies that neglect reforms that may serve a useful long-term cause, but not an immediate political interest.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 26th, 2017 at 7:15 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”