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Himachal govt to raise Rs 4000 cr. from water cess amid shriking revenues and tall electoral promises

Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu arrives at the state assembly on Tuesday.

Shimla: In its bid to mobilise additional resources from rivers in the state, the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday introduced a bill named as Himachal Pradesh Water Cess on Hydropower Generation Bill 2023 in the state assembly.

The month-long budget session of the state assembly started in Shimla this morning.

Much before Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu presents his first budget for year 2023-24 on March 17, the government made its intentions clear to raise resources to fund promises made during the elections,including Old Pension Scheme (OPS) and Rs 1500 per month to women in the age group of 18 to 60 years.

Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri,who holds the Jal-Shakti portfolio introduced the bill that will replace Himachal Pradesh Water Cess on Hydropower Generation Ordinance, promulgated by the Governor on February 15, 2023.

Agnihotri said  the bill has been brought on the analogy of Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.Both the governments have already imposed water cess.

There are around 172 hydropower projects in the state, some of these owned by independent power producers, NHPC, NTPC and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Ltd .

The companies are generating around 11000 MW of power .The water cess will bring a revenue of Rs 4000 crore to the exchequer.

He claimed that the water cess bill will have no burden on the public.

The Deputy Chief Minister dispelled the apprehensions that the bill ,once it becomes the law, will be challenged in the court by the power producers.

“ Some people had moved the court against the bill in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir .The Courts did not entertain their plea. The sole purpose of the bill is to  main is to generate revenue” he told India Narrative later ,outside the assembly.

As per provisions, the government will set-up a State Commission for Water Cess to discharge the functions under the Act. The annual expenditure on this will be Rs 23-crore.

State’s Chief Secretary will head the Commission which will have not more than four members .Their tenure will be fixed upto three years subject to maximum age limit of 65 years.

“The implementation of water cess was aimed to increase the state’s revenue and strengthen its economy, so that sufficient funds would be available for welfare schemes” said CM Sukhu .

The Chief Minister said that the state’s fiscal health was really precarious because of a high debt burden of Rs 75,000 cr.There is another liability of Rs 11,000 cr pending to pay arrears of revised salaries to the employees and pensioners.

Further the implementation of OPS will entail an expenditure of another Rs 800 cr in the first year but the government has no money left even to pay salaries and wages to the staff in coming months unless more resources are raised.

Also Read: We will work to change the system in Himachal, says Chief Minister Sukhu