Solar City Ayodhya: PM Surya Ghar Bijli Yojana promoted as ‘free electricity scheme’ during polls, leaves many confused

Aggressive efforts for registration in Uttar Pradesh; But confusion reigns over plant costs due to 'free' tag
Abhishek Chaudhary, who installed a 3 kW rooftop solar under the PM Surya Ghar scheme in March 2024. Photo: Varsha Singh
Abhishek Chaudhary, who installed a 3 kW rooftop solar under the PM Surya Ghar scheme in March 2024. Photo: Varsha Singh

In Kaushalpuri colony in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh’s first solar city, solar panels are seen on only a few rooftops. One of those is the home of 21-year-old Abhishek Chaudhary.

After the consecration of the Shri Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana (translated to PM solar home free electricity scheme), aiming to provide rooftop solar (RTS) power to 10 million households in India with 3 kilowatt (kW) rooftop installations. 

This announcement prompted Chaudhary to research solar energy. “On March 24, our 3 kW solar setup was installed. The total cost was Rs 1.90 lakh, and we’ve applied for a subsidy of Rs 1.08 lakh,” he said. His family has paid Rs 90,000 to the solar vendor to install the setup, with the remaining amount due after receiving the subsidy.

Within 15 days of installing the setup, the setup produced 150 units of surplus electricity. The family has become energy producers now and he estimated the cost will be recovered in about three years.

When asked about the “free electricity scheme,” Chaudhary laughed, saying his family invested their own money in it. “The government is referring to the electricity generated as ‘free’, not the installation itself,” he said.

Jitendra Dwivedi, the solar vendor who installed the setup, also clarified, “Modi ji said ‘free electricity’, not ‘free solar installations’”. 

Due to the promotion using the word ‘free’, people didn’t realise they had to pay for the installation. Many solar vendors from Lucknow and Ayodhya districts stated that people have been arguing with them about what the government claims is a free electricity scheme, but the vendors are charging for it.

Under the PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana, which will run for three years, the central government is providing a Rs 78,000 subsidy, and the Uttar Pradesh government offers an additional Rs 30,000 for solar setups up to 3 kW. The estimated cost of 3 kilowatt rooftop solar system is about Rs 1.8 lakh. After the subsidy, the total cost to the consumer is around Rs 72,000.

A 1 kW solar setup typically produces 4-5 units of electricity per day, while a 3 kW setup generates 300-400 units per month.

Ayodhya resident Kamlesh Yadav installed a 7 kW solar installation before the PM Surya Ghar Yojana was introduced. He mentioned that once the setup was installed, there was no electricity bill, only a metre charge. Photo: Varsha Singh.

The PM Surya Ghar Yojana was launched just before the election code of conduct was implemented. The PM announced the scheme on January 22, 2024 and on February 13, the central government launched the scheme with financial support of Rs 75,021 crore to provide rooftop solar installations to 10 million households. 

Previous rooftop schemes were consolidated into the new scheme. It got administrative approval on March 16 and its draft guidelines were issued. Suggestions on this were accepted until April 23, 2024. However, with the election code of conduct in place, the scheme’s promotion through government channels and the disbursement of subsidies were put on hold.

In its election rallies, Bharatiya Janata Party highlighted “24-hour electricity, zero electricity bill, and earning from electricity” as significant achievements.

The Uttar Pradesh government intensified efforts to meet the scheme’s targets, with various departments given quotas for registrations so that a sizable number of registrations are done during the 30-day period between the scheme’s launch and the implementation of the code of conduct.

An employee of a solar company in Lucknow provides information on the PM Surya Ghar scheme over the phone. Photo: Varsha Singh.

Efforts for registration

UP set a target of 2.5 million households out of a total of 10 million under the scheme. The state, which was far behind the target in the first phase of RTS, which began in 2017, and the second phase, which began in 2019, worked tirelessly to meet it.

To meet registration targets, over 35 departments, including post offices, teachers, the excise department, the forestry department, the agriculture department and the health department, were tasked with promoting the scheme. Information on over 10 million registrations is available on the PM Surya Ghar portal, but data on the number of installed plants is not readily accessible.

Deepak Kumar, assistant postmaster of the Ayodhya Head Post Office, stated their target was 30,000 registrations. “In Ayodhya city, 32 postmen and branch and assistant branch postmasters of 81 branch post offices were given a target of 20 registrations per day,” he stated. Questions on whether the target of 1,000 registrations a day was achieved went unanswered. 

Amit Kumar Dubey, a postman in the Sahibganj area, was able to secure 132 registrations in 20 days by distributing information about the scheme while delivering post. “Along with distributing the post, I informed the entire locality about the scheme and registered them on the PM Suryaghar app. This work ceased after the code of conduct was imposed,” he said. 

A solar vendor from Ayodhya on condition of anonymity remarked that some registrations were done without thorough verification, raising questions about the authenticity of the data. “When we investigated them, no records were found,” the vendor said. 

Neeraj Vajpayee, president of the Renewable Energy Development Association, said some people were paid to register, and others were unaware of their registration. “It also came to our attention that government employees were also pressured to install plants,” he said.

Anupam Shukla, director of the UP New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA), said that as of March 15, 2024, there were 1-1.2 million registrations under the scheme in UP. “Uttar Pradesh has approximately 180 million electricity consumers who use up to 100 units per month. Our goal is to receive 10 to 15 million registrations. Because the probability of establishing the plant is between 20 and 25 per cent compared to the registrations,” he said.

Shukla also explained that spending a large sum upfront for a solar plant is often the main hurdle for people, so arrangements for bank loans are being made.

Ayodhya solar data

A total of 220 electricity consumers in the residential areas of Ayodhya, which has a population of 2,470,996 across one municipal corporation, four municipal bodies, and 1,272 villages, are either connected or in the process of connecting to RTS systems.

According to data provided to Down To Earth (DTE) by UPNEDA project officer PN Pandey, 148 solar installations with a total capacity of 759.1 kW have been set up in residential areas. An additional 72 consumers are in the process of installing plants with a combined capacity of 387 kW.

Furthermore, 25 solar plants with a capacity of 1,240 kW have been installed on commercial and industrial buildings, with nine more plants totaling 240 kW currently being set up. This brings the total capacity for this category to 1,480 kW.

However, according to UPNEDA Lucknow data obtained by DTE, based on subsidies given up to April 9, 2024, only 82 rooftop solar plants with a combined capacity of 349 kW have been installed in the residential areas of Ayodhya.

Additionally, 590 smart solar street lights with a combined capacity of 212.4 kW and 2,300 standard solar street lights with a total capacity of 172.5 kW have been installed. In parks and gardens, 34 solar trees with a total capacity of 34 kW, nine solar-powered drinking water stations totaling 2.7 kW, and eight solar lights with a combined capacity of 20 kW have been set up.

NTPC is establishing a 40 MW solar plant in the area, with power generation already underway at 14 MW.

The Ayodhya Energy Action Plan estimates the RTS capacity for Solar City to be 212 MW. The estimated proportion of renewable energy in Ayodhya city's electricity consumption is currently 0.115 per cent. To transition entirely to renewable energy across all sectors, including electricity and transport, Ayodhya would require 2,557 MW.

PN Pandey noted, “It typically takes about a month to set up a solar plant. The government’s PM Suryaghar Yojana was delayed by a code of conduct, which was enforced 30 days after the order was issued, causing further delays in receiving subsidies. Although post offices and banks registered applicants, they lacked full information on the scheme. This had resulted in increased registration numbers but slower installation rates.”

Construction work at the Shri Ram Mandir in April. After this ceremony in January, PM Modi announced the PM Surya Ghar Yojana. Photo: Varsha Singh

Power cuts at the Ram Mandir premises around 9 pm. Solar plants do not generate electricity when there are power cuts during the day, something many people were unaware of. Photo: Varsha Singh

Shravan Mishra, an employee at a solar company and resident of Ayodhya, voiced his displeasure, calling the scheme an election stunt designed to boost votes. “Solar schemes existed well before the elections. While the subsidy was increased, they gave it the wrong name, ‘Free Electricity Scheme’. The term ‘free’ suggests that there’s no cost for the common person, but in reality, a significant amount must still be paid.”

The president of the Ayodhya Vyapar Mandal, Nand Kumar Gupta, commented, “Ayodhya is supposed to be a solar city, but even government offices here aren’t using solar energy as an example.”

In Ayodhya, there’s an unofficial power cut of four to six hours every day, with even worse conditions in rural areas, Gupta added. “Those who install solar panels expect to have electricity around the clock, but they’re unaware that if there’s a power outage, their system won’t generate electricity either,” he added. 

Power cuts remain a major issue in Uttar Pradesh, leading to complaints about incomplete registrations, election-related haste, and confusion over ‘free electricity’. However, many believe that the PM Surya Ghar scheme, designed to promote solar energy, is a positive step for both ordinary people and the environment.

A house with a rooftop solar installation in Ayodhya. Photo: Varsha Singh

The PM Surya Ghar Yojana aims to generate 1 billion units of electricity from solar energy using 10 million rooftop solar setups rated at up to 3 kW each. These installations are expected to cut carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 720 million tonnes over their 25-year lifespan.

This scheme can also assist India in meeting its commitment to combat climate change by achieving 30 GW of solar capacity by 2026-27, in accordance with its Nationally Determined Contributions.

This article was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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