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Under attack from Govt of India, Greenpeace praises Gujarat solar 'model'

By Rajiv Shah
In a surprise move, a new report by Greenpeace India, the environmental NGO whose Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) license was controversially cancelled in December 2016, followed by an Enforcement Directorate (ED) freezing its bank accounts in October 2018, has showered praise on a scheme to solarize agriculture launched in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, Gujarat.
It is well known that the crackdown resulted in the top NGO deciding to “scale back” its operations and staff in the India by nearly 50%.
Analyzing solar irrigation in five states – Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Odisha – a new report by Greenpeace India says, the Gujarat government scheme, Suryashakti Kisan Yojana (SKY), launched in June 2018, “not only ensures assured access to irrigation and electricity, it also provides the farmer with the dual economic benefit of selling surplus electricity to the power distribution company or DISCOM and selling water to farmers.”
Asserting that “not all state schemes have taken off as planned”, the report, titled “Solarisation of Agriculture”, released this month, says, Gujarat’s SKY scheme allows farmers to sell their surplus solar electricity to DISCOM, which “discourages over-use of water for irrigation”, which, it suggests, is the main environmental disadvantage of allowing farmers to move over to solar power for irrigation.
The huge advantage, the international NGO indicates, comes amidst a “major concern” among policy experts on the “over-use of ground water and migrating to water-intensive cash crops on account of zero fuel costs and/or to make up the capital contribution by farmers” if one were to switch over to solar irrigation without encouraging farmers to sell their surplus power.
Praising the Gujarat scheme, the NGO says, it offers solar panels to farmers at a highly subsidized rate – the state and Central government subsidies cover 60% of the cost, the farmer is required to pay 5%, while the rest of 35% is provided as at an “affordable” loan. Under the scheme, Greenpeace adds, farmers would earn Rs 7 per unit for the first seven years and from then on for 18 years, they would earn Rs 3.5 per unit of electricity sold to the grid.
Pointing towards how the state coffers would gain from SKY, the NGO says, the scheme, if successfully implemented across the state, would also benefit the state government financially by “savings from providing subsidized power to the farmers.”
It adds, “The state currently provides electricity to farmers at about 50 paise per unit. A farmer will have to give up her/ his connection of subsidized power in addition to investing in a solar project. By promoting grid-connected pumps, SKY incentivises solar irrigation for farmers, ensures maximum utilisation of units, generates electricity for the state and reduces the financial burden faced by DISCOMs.”
Gain from solar power to farmers, as noted by Greenpeace
The SKY scheme, recalls Greenpeace, is the result of successful completion of a pilot programme called Solar Power as Remunerative Crop, “where a grid-connected solar irrigation pump was installed in Thamna village of Anand district in Gujarat in 2015.”
Launched by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in collaboration with the Tata Trust, this encouraged the well-known institute, with headquarters in Colombo, to go in for “conversation with farmers in Dhundi village.” Six farmers from Dhundi came to take up the experiment, the NGO adds.
Pointing out the reason why these farmers joined the project, Greenpeace says, “There are over 40 diesel pumps in the village that cater to irrigation needs throughout the year. Owing to issues with land records, farmers in the village could not receive electricity for irrigation purpose, thereby depending wholly on diesel. Farmers rent the diesel pump facility for about Rs 120 per hour.”
A Solar Pump Irrigators’ Cooperative was set up in December 2015. Formally registered in February 2016, and deemed as the first solar cooperative in the world, three more farmers to join the cooperative in September 2016, the report says, adding, currently, “The nine solar pumps are used for irrigating own fields, renting pump service to neighbouring farmers for a service charge and feeding surplus electricity" to the DISCOM, Madhya Gujarat Vidyut Company Ltd (MGVCL).
It adds, “Between January 2016 and May 2018, the cooperative generated 2.04 lakh units of solar power. About 37% of this generated electricity was utilised for irrigation and 63% was sold to MGVCL. The net income of the cooperative members had increased by 33% in 2016-17 (as compared to the previous year) and 58% in 2017-18.”
Farmer beneficiaries of the pilot project
According to Greenpeace, “Solar irrigation is also economical to non-member farmers who rent services. While renting diesel pump services costs a farmer Rs 500 for irrigating a bigha of land, solar irrigation costs only Rs 250. Farmers also stated that irrigating through solar pumps reduced the time spent irrigating per bigha.”
The report quotes Praveen Parmer, leader of the cooperative, as saying, “The benefits from this project have been multi-fold. Use of diesel has almost come to an end in our village. The income that the cooperative members earn from sale of water and electricity has substantially improved our lives. Other farmers in the village are also getting water at lower prices from the nine members.”

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