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Indiscriminate installation of solar pumps in India would sharply deplete groundwater levels, warns top expert

By Our Representative
One of the topmost Indian experts on water resource management, Prof Tushaar Shah, has warned that the massive unplanned drive, which has begun across the country, to allow installation of highly subsidized solar pumps to suck out scarce groundwater resources for irrigation may cause a major environmental disaster, if not properly handled.
Talking with newspersons at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), Prof Shah, who is with the prestigious Columbia-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI), with an office in Anand, Gujarat, said, “So far, in our estimation, around 45,000 solar pumps have been installed across India, 25,000 in Rajasthan alone”, adding, “In Gujarat, 1,500 such pumps have been installed.”
Pointing out that states are offering “huge subsidies” of 70 to 95 per cent (Rajasthan and Gujarat, respectively) for installing solar pumps up to the capacity of 5 kilowatts (KW), up from 2 KW earlier, Prof Shah said, this is already leading farmers to install them "indiscriminately" as they find it as a “far cheaper source of groundwater irrigation than diesel or electricity.”
“Our estimate is, given the massive pressure from the farming community and reducing price of solar pumps, there would be around one million such pumps across India by 2020”, Prof Shah said, adding, “Unregulated, this would mean that the farmers would use the pumps to suck out scarce water without restriction, as they would find it extremely cheap, almost free.”
“In fact, in the next two-three years, the prices of solar pumps would fall to such an extent that there would be need for subsidies”, Prof Shah said, adding, “With virtually no maintenance cost if properly cleaned up on a regular basis, the farmers would be attracted to use as much groundwater as they want, and even well it.”
“Clearly, the haphazard installation of pumps would lead to a sharp rise in groundwater depletion”, he said, adding, “I drew the attention of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley about it, as also officials of the water resources and power ministries. However, none appear keen to come to grips with the problem. State governments seem equally oblivion.”
Solution: Pointing towards the need to urgently look for the solution which IWMI has found on an experimental basis, Prof Shah said, “In Dhundi village in Anand district, we have formed, with the help of Amul, a cooperative of the farmers using solar pumps, with the state-owned power distribution company, Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Limited (MGVCL), buying up any extra power which farmers produce from solar pump after using groundwater for irrigation. As of July 31, the farmers sold 5,097 units of electricity the MGVCL, which agreed to pay them Rs 4.63 per unit.”
“These units could have been used to pump an additional 25 million litres of groundwater, but as it was more profitable for the farmers sell power to MGVCL grid, they opted for the latter”, Prof Shah said, adding, “Before the cooperative, farmers were using diesel pumps which have now been replaced by solar pumps.”
“We believe, the farmers should be offered Rs 7 or Rs 7.50 per unit, so that evacuating power produced from solar pumps becomes even more attractive”, Prof Shah said, adding, “If this happens, the possibility of achieving the National Solar Mission aim of reaching 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022 would become very easy, pushing to the backdrop rooftop solar systems and MW-scale solar power plants.”

Comments

sekhar said…
Interesting article. Is there any info on Maharashtra state scheme on promoting solar pumps?

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