Agriculture

PM-Kusum not a solution for India’s irrigation needs: CSE

The scheme might result in over-exploitation of groundwater and won't help reduce discoms’ subsidy burden

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 09 August 2019
The PM-Kusum scheme aims to install 17.5 lakh off-grid and 10 lakh on-grid solar pumps and 10 gigawatt of solar power plants capacity in rural areas by 2022. Photo: Getty Images
The PM-Kusum scheme aims to install 17.5 lakh off-grid and 10 lakh on-grid solar pumps and 10 gigawatt of solar power plants capacity in rural areas by 2022. Photo: Getty Images The PM-Kusum scheme aims to install 17.5 lakh off-grid and 10 lakh on-grid solar pumps and 10 gigawatt of solar power plants capacity in rural areas by 2022. Photo: Getty Images

The Centre’s new Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-Kusum) scheme is not a “silver bullet” to overcome challenges of irrigation supply, subsidy burden on discoms and farmer distress, according to a report from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-profit.

The PM-Kusum scheme, approved in February 2019, aims to install 17.5 lakh off-grid and 10 lakh on-grid solar pumps and 10 gigawatt of solar power plants capacity in rural areas by 2022.

It also targets to increase farmer income through sale of surplus power, reduce electricity subsidy burden (approximately Rs 50,000 crores) and expand the distributed renewable energy capacity.

However, the scheme might result in over-exploitation of groundwater, according to CSE. The findings are based on its surveys of farmers in three districts in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

In regions with water-scarcity, the solar pumps are unable to provide adequate irrigation due to depleting groundwater.

Further, PM-Kusum may also not help reduce discoms’ subsidy burden because the installation of pumps is not mandatorily tied to decrease in subsidised agricultural power supply, the report showed.

“Although PM Kususm aims to reduce subsidy burden of state discoms, it does not have any clear goals or provisions to ensure subsidy reduction. The subsidised solar pumps are being installed without accompanying cuts in agricultural supply or a reduction in subsidy,” said Mandvi Singh, programme manager, renewable energy at CSE.

“The result may, therefore, be an increase in total subsidy burden on states,” she added.

The risk of over-extraction of groundwater is most by off-grid pumps and they also remain underused. Utilisation of pumps was as low as 33 per cent, according to survey of farmers in Buldhana, Maharashtra.

The solarisation of agricultural feeders and on-grid solar pumps — suggested in the PM Kususm scheme — are economically superior to off-grid pumps. It is because excess electricity can be injected into the grid.

While, the solarisation of agricultural feeders and on-grid solar pumps are economically superior to off-grid pumps, as excess electricity can be injected into the grid, they do not specify measures to limit water use. 

Further, PM-Kusum's proposed scheme of installing solar plants on farm land will benefit only the wealthy farmers, as it requires large investment or the ability to lease land for 25 years, according to the report.

In Pilibhit(Uttar Pradesh), most of the subsidised solar pumps had been installed by large farmers, CSE found.

“The solar pump programme certainly needs a relook ... It is very much possible to increase renewable energy, reduce groundwater exploitation and help small and marginal farmers. But for this, PM-Kusum scheme has be viewed as a water and agriculture scheme and not merely as a renewable energy scheme,” said Chandra Bhushan deputy director general, CSE.

PM-Kusum needs reforms in agricultural support price, rationalisation of power tariff, direct benefit transfer and water-efficient irrigation, said Priyavrat Bhati, advisor-energy, CSE.

The CSE report recommends:

  • Solar pump schemes should accompany explicit and strict measures of monitoring and control to manage groundwater extraction. Funds for solar pump schemes should be extended only to states willing to take such measures.
  • Solarisation of feeders may be the most economical solution, but needs to be accompanied by gradual increase in agricultural tariffs and limits on hours of power supply.
  • On-grid pumps are an alternative for water-scarce regions with high farmer distress, but adequate and one-way power flow (as opposed to net meter) is necessary to limit water withdrawal.
  • Off-grid pumps should be considered only in exceptional cases, for unelectrified regions with relatively high water-table, and utilisation should be increased through a mini-grid model in which excess electricity can be used in households or for other economic uses.
  • Clear targets must be set to provide solar pumps to small and marginal farmers. Providing access to financing is a crucial support needed by this segment.
  • Efficient discom operations should be ensured by regulatory mandates for regular reporting on installations, operations, evacuation, billing and payment to farmers.

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