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Gujarat govt "not interested" in turning farmers into solar power producers despite "successful" pilot project

Dr Tushaar Shah (left) with Gujarat official Sujit Gulati
By Rajiv Shah
A climate change experiment for promoting alternative sources of energy in Anand district, begun about two-and-a-half years ago by a world-renowned institute, meant for promoting groundwater solar pumps as a means for turning ordinary farmers into electricity producers, appears to have no takers in the Gujarat government.
Well-informed sources have told Counterview that though two top state officials have personally examined the experiment, carried out under the direction of well-known water expert Dr Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), things have refused to move.”
The experiment involves using solar pumps instead of diesel or electricity pumps for using groundwater for irrigation, but with a rider: The state government should connect the pumps with the state electricity grid and buy up whatever electricity is left unused after the farmers are done with irrigation.
Talking with Counterview on the sidelines of a media conference in Ahmedabad for promoting the experiment, Dr Shah explained, “If power is bought over by the state power distribution company, it would incentivize farmers to stop overexploiting groundwater for irrigation, even as turning them into solar power producers, helping climate change.”
Asked why the Gujarat government didn’t seem interested in the proposal, Dr Shah said, “Additional chief secretary, energy and petrochemicals, Sujit Gulati, personally visited the village Dhundi, where the experiment began two-and-a-half years ago, and found it very useful. We hope that our proposal will be accepted.”
The second official, who visited the village to oversee the experiment, and found it “interesting”, was ex-rural development commissioner Jayanthi Ravi. Interestingly, the Gujarat chief minister in an IWMI note has been quoted as praising the experiment, with the suggestion that a new solar policy would clinch the issue.
Jayanthi Ravi with Dr Tushaar Shah
However, despite the visit of the two officials, and Dr Shah’s talks at different levels, including the highest, a file is said to have been floated for going ahead with it for entire Gujarat, but, said sources, “the matter is stuck in the corridors of power.”
Talking about advantages of the IWMI proposal, Dr Shah said, “Currently, under a scheme, the state government provides 95% capital subsidy to the farmers willing use groundwater with the help of solar pumps, but for this they must give up their applications for electricity connections.”
He added, “2.5 lakh such applications for power connection lying with the state government, and if these farmers begin using solar pumps it would mean massive overexploitation of groundwater. After all, solar pumps allow groundwater pumping with no or little cost.”
The senior expert said, “Our proposal provides an alternative. We think there is no need, at the present stage, to withdraw the application for electricity connection. Instead, the farmers should be given 50% capital subsidy for installing the solar pump, but with the guarantee that the state government would buy up the surplus power at an agreed price.”
Underlining that this would “discourage” groundwater overexploitation, which otherwise would not be the case, Dr Shah said, “If taken up on a mass scale, it would save thermal power and groundwater, both. It’s a win-win proposal for farmers, the government and is in favour of climate change .”
Farmers' solar power generation cooperative members, Dhundi
As a result of state “indifference”, the IWMI, which is headquartered in Colombo and has an office in Anand, and works on water policy issues across the world, has been able to “tap” just nine farmers in Dhundi village over the last two-and-a-half years.
Under an agreement with the state government’s distribution company, Madhya Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (MGUVNL), these farmers sell their extra power at Rs 4.63 per unit, and as there is virtually no cost for producing power, it’s all their profit. The farmers sell about 60% of power they produce and their incomes have doubled.
“The IWMI subsidized solar pumps to these farmers. It also negotiated with MGUVNL to buy up extra power”, Dr Shah said, adding, “Now, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has agreed to have a similar experiment in village Mujkuva, also in Anand district. Fourteen farmers have agreed to buy up solar pumps at a subsidy that the IWMI would provide. Negotiations are on with MUGNL for buying up extra power.”

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