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Will Govt of India set up land bank, ‘reclaim' wasteland to set up solar power projects?

By NS Venkataraman*

Acquiring land for setting up solar power projects is one of the biggest challenges for solar project developers in India. Solar power project require large track of land and the cost of land is critical in reducing the overall project costs. To set up solar power project of one megawatt capacity, around 6,000 square metre (around 1.5 acre) of land is required.
By end of December, 2023, India’s installed capacity for solar power was around 74 GW and around 45GW of wind power. With the target of achieving 500GW of renewable power projects by 2030, India has to increase the installed capacity of solar power projects multifold.
To ensure that India would be able to have high solar power installed capacity by 2030 commensurate with the target of 500 GW for renewable energy, it is absolutely necessary that land acquisition issue for solar power projects should be sorted out once for all.
In a densely populated country like India, acquisition of land for any purpose, whether industrial, commercial, infrastructure, mining or other purpose have been a formidable ticklish issue.
In several cases, agricultural land is being sought to be taken over for such projects and there have been severe public resistance for such proposals, as this uproots the life of the farmers and agriculturists who have been depending on the agricultural land for their earnings and livelihood.
Not surprisingly, there have been protests and opposition for such move to acquire agricultural land. A careful and dispassionate study and analysis of the above scenario would highlight the fact that the apprehensions and anxiety are genuine and cannot be ignored or taken for granted under any circumstances.
As a result, in the last decade, a number of proposed and prospective industrial and infrastructure projects have been shelved or heavily delayed due to the land acquisition issues in the country.

Need for land bank for solar power project

It is high time that the Government of India should create a comprehensive policy and approach to ensure adequate land availability for solar power projects, without disturbing the agricultural operations or upsetting the livelihood and economic conditions of people belonging to lower income group.
It is necessary, to carry out a detailed land audit all over India to identify surplus/ unused land, which have not been put to use for more than five years and such land can be acquired by the government to set up solar power . project.
Most of such sites would be suitable for setting up solar power project in view of the tropical conditions in most part of the country and most period of the year.
There are many sick industrial units in large, medium and small scale level,which are not in operation for several years and number of them may have large area of unused land.
Such land as well as acreage, buildings and other facilities belonging to thousands of industrial units of various sizes that fell sick and were closed, with little or no prospects of being reopened, can be used to set up solar power projects , instead of taking over farmland.
A 2015-16 study estimated that India had around 55.76 million hectares of wasteland (16.96 per cent of the country’s total area), including dense scrub, waterlogged marshy land, sandy areas, degraded pastures/ grazing land, alkaline and saline land, barren rocky areas etc. (Source: NRSC, ISRO, Dept. of Space & Department of Land Resources, Ministry of rural Development).
Such wasteland can be recovered and reclaimed and put to use for setting up solar power projects.

Pattern of waste land distribution

Further, there are many operating industrial units all over India, which have large tracts of surplus and unused land. Similarly, there are many educational institutions and universities which have much land which has remained unutilised for decades.
Central and state governments, as well as the Indian Railways own land, possibly running into several thousands of acres, which are not in use. In view of the land acquisition issues, solar power projects are facing crisis situation to move on in expanding the capacity and meeting the energy requirement of the country.
Unfortunately, no organised study has been initiated by government so far to assess the availability of such unused and waste land and the feasibility of putting them to use. It is high time that the government looks into the matter with high sense of urgency.
*Trustee, Nandini Voice for The Deprived, Chennai



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