ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Karnataka’s ‘Surya Raitha’ Experiment

Solar-powered irrigation has expanded in India at an unprecedented pace—the number of solar irrigation pumps—from less than 4,000 in 2012 to more than 2,50,000 by 2019. It has been argued that besides giving farmers an additional and reliable source of income, grid-connected SIPs also incentivise efficient energy and water use—critical for sustaining groundwater irrigation. The Surya Raitha scheme was the country’s first, state-driven initiative for solarisation of agriculture feeders by replacing subsidy-guzzling, inefficient electric pumps with energy-efficient, net-metered SIPs. An early appraisal of Surya Raitha lauded the scheme as a smart initiative and argued that it could set an example for promoting solar power as a remunerative crop. However, the scheme was eventually executed as a single feeder pilot with some design changes in Nalahalli panchayat from 2015–18. The authors visited the pilot in 2017–18 and 2018–19 to assess if it had delivered the promises of Surya Raitha scheme. The results are a mixed bag and offer important lessons for implementation and scaling out of component C of the Government of India’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan policy.

Solar Irrigation Pumps and India’s Energy–Irrigation Nexus

A response by the co-authors of the article “Promoting Solar Power as a Remunerative Crop” (EPW, 11 November 2017), to Meera Sahasranaman et al’s discussion article “Solar Irrigation Cooperatives: Creating the Frankenstein’s Monster for India’s Groundwater” (EPW, 26 May 2018), enables a proper assessment of the Dhundi experiment and reiterates the critical role that solar irrigation pumps can play in India’s agricultural future.

Promoting Solar Power as a Remunerative Crop

Anand, the Gujarat town that gave India its dairy cooperative movement, has now spawned in Dhundi village the world’s first solar cooperative that produces Solar Power as a Remunerative Crop. When compared to other models promoting solar irrigation in the country, the SPaRC model, which has successfully completed one year in Dhundi, offers multiple benefits across-the-board: it will control groundwater overexploitation, reduce the subsidy burden on DISCOMs, curtail carbon footprint of agriculture, and help double farmer incomes

Karnataka's Smart, New Solar Pump Policy for Irrigation

The runaway growth in states of subsidised solar pumps, which provide quality energy at near-zero marginal cost, can pose a bigger threat of groundwater over-exploitation than free power has done so far. The best way to meet this threat is by paying farmers to "grow" solar power as a remunerative cash crop. Doing so can reduce pressure on aquifers, cut the subsidy burden on electricity companies, reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture and improve farm incomes. Karnataka's new Surya Raitha policy has ken a small step in this direction.
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