By Francis Khongwar
Shillong ( Meghalaya), March 11 : The Assembly today, March 11, passed the Meghalaya Appropriation (No. 1) bill, 2022.
Introducing the Bills in the ongoing budget session of the state Assembly, Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister, Prestone Tynsong said said the Bill seeks House approval for withdrawal an amount of over 1316.39 crore rupees from the Consolidated Fund of Meghalaya to enable the state Government to pay the various expenditures incurred by the state Government between the 1st of April, 2021 and the 31st March, 2022.
On the power sector, Meghalaya Deputy Chief Minister in-charge Power, Prestone Tynsong told the Assembly that the state is implementing the Saubhagya rural electrification scheme with severe budget cuts. Informing the House during Question Hour, Tynsong said, the scheme began in 2017 and the state submitted a Detailed Project Report to the Power Ministry, through the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC.)
The aim of the project is to reach out to the last mile in villages in terms of rural household electrification. As per the DPR, the state government had estimated that it would cost Rs. 1914 crore to implement the project in the state. However, the REC reduced the budget to Rs. 1189 crore and later it was again reduced to Rs. 657.5 crore. The Power Minister said due to the reduction in the budget the state government had to modify the implementation of the project.
Tynsong, replying to a question asked by member from the Opposition Trinamool Congress, Zenith Sangma, said, villages under Rerapara block in Garo Hills have not been electrified so far as the department is awaiting fund sanction from the centre.
Replying to a different question, the Power Minister said that the government would examine the issue of consumers being billed an additional Rs. 6 while making online payment through the Meghalaya Power Distribution Corporation Limited (MePDCL) payment gateway.
KHNAM legislator, Adelbert Nongrum asked the Minster why the consumers were being charged the additional Rs. 6 on top of the consumer’s monthly bill.
Tynsong said that the MePDCL pays the transaction charge of the payment gateway while the consumer pays the charges levied by the bank with which the consumer is banking.
The Minister further informed that the MePDCL has engaged a vendor to execute the online payment gateway and the corporation pays Rs. 2.5 for each online transaction. He nonetheless assured the House that he would be examining the additional financial burden of Rs. 6 passed on to the consumers while executing the payment online.
Elaborating about the consumer’s monthly electricity bill, he said that the bill component consists of a fixed charge of Rs. 60 per kilowatt per month and the energy charge depending on the amount of energy consumed by the consumer.
Replying to another supplementary question asked by Saleng Sangma from the Nationalist Congress Party, Tynsong said, instructions have been given to MeCl management to ensure that there are no human errors while raising the bill of the consumers.
Dismissing the principal questioner’s assertion that the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited is not generating any revenue from 1975, Tynsong said, that’s not a fact. However the corporation is availing loans to cover capital cost for project implementation and working capital loans for power purchase and other expenditure.
Opposition member from the Trinamool Congress, Himalaya Shangpliang while raising a Short Duration discussion urged the state government to undertake an Areca Nut Mission to help the cultivators of the state.
Stating that the areca nut cultivation is a lucrative business for the cultivators, Shangpliang said on an average 905 kg of areca nut is cultivated on one hectare of land. Nowadays 20 percent of the plantations are being destroyed due to various factors.
He said the cultivators have been facing a lot of challenges due to disease to their plantation and also natural calamities and sought government intervention to assist the cultivators.
Replying to Himalaya Shangpliang’s queries, Minister in-charge Agriculture, Banteidor Lyngdoh said areca nut is listed as an agriculture product in the state. However, under the community listing of AGMARK, areca nut has been grouped under drugs and narcotic by the central government. The centre is also not approving central schemes on the ground that the crop is considered harmful to health.
As per a report, in East Khasi Hills 43 villages were affected by the disease covering 298.4 hectare. In West Garo Hills 801 hectare or 16 percent of total area under the areca nut plantation was affected by disease. In West Khasi Hills 5 percent, South West Khasi Hills 20, South Garo hills 17, East Garo hills 17 and North Garo Hills 30 percent of the areca nut cultivation was affected.
Therefore, the district horticulture officers have inspected the affected crops in different districts of the state and remedial measures have been recommended. District Horticulture Officers were asked to inspect and monitor the disease in each district.
Moving a Cut Motion on Demands for Grants of the Revenue and Disaster Management, opposition legislator from the Trinamool Congress, George Lyngdoh said, relief fund of affected victims of natural calamity has been pending in areas of his constituency from 2018.