Sat, 15 Mar 2003

Legislators reject water charge plan for farmers

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Legislators vowed on Friday to reject any move to obligate farmers to pay for irrigation water as stipulated in the water resources bill now being deliberated at the House of Representatives (DPR).

Erman Suparno of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and Karimun Usman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) said they would lobby other factions to reject the controversial plan, as it would only worsen farmers' already straitened circumstances.

"We will absolutely refuse the plan. We do not want to burden farmers with any water charges. This is a promise," Erman told The Jakarta Post.

According to Erman, asking farmers to pay for water from state-owned irrigation projects was inappropriate due to their low financial means.

"If the government prepares such an article in the draft government regulation, they must drop it," Erman said.

The draft regulation, which is to be issued after the water resource bill is endorsed, stipulates that water charges for farmland will be decided based on irrigation fees farmers paid to their associations.

Karimun concurred with Erman, and said that any plan to charge farmers for irrigation water would violate the amended 1945 Constitution.

"It is crazy if anyone intends to charge farmers for irrigation water. Most of our population are farmers, and a free water supply must be ensured for their farms," he said.

The draft confirmed earlier concerns voiced by non- governmental organizations (NGOs) and farmers associations, that the water resource bill would force farmers to pay for irrigation water, in keeping with the concept of full-cost recovery for any irrigation developments.

The government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Their debate centers on Article 41.1 and 41.2. Article 41.1 stipulates that water for farmland managed by farmers associations would be given the right to use water without any charges; but Article 42.2 states that the farming business, including plantations, fish farms, fishery firms and animal husbandry outfits must pay water charges.

At present, farmers only pay an irrigation fee for infrastructure maintenance, but they do not pay water charges.

Of the country's 11 million hectares of total farmland, 7.1 million hectares are irrigated farmland.

Other users, such as tap water companies, power producers and other private firms, pay water charges.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the Indonesian Farmers Federation (FSPI) Henry Saragih warned that if the government proceeded with the ruling requiring farmers to pay for irrigation water, his organization would fight to annul the plan.

"We will fight for free water, because water is very important to farmers, like land. You will see farmers resist, just like the action we took in the land acquisition cases in Kedung Ombo (Central Java), Cimacan (West Java) and other places," he said.

He said that water charges for farmlands would put farmers in deep water, as they had already been distressed by poor policies on seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.