- Limited number of farmers from Bihar in the past have used the state’s subsidised solar pump schemes to shift to clean energy for irrigation.
- Marred by the higher market cost of solar pumps and absence of roll out of the PM-KUSUM scheme in Bihar, solar pumps are yet to be adopted on large-scale by the small farmers.
- Bihar is yet to approve the PM-KUSUM scheme in the state but even if that happens there are some practical issues that the state authorities will need to address.
Jagdev Prasad is a farmer based in Baghar village in Barachatti block of Gaya district in Bihar. He owns 3.5 acres of agricultural land in the village and often grows wheat, brinjal and other vegetables on his farm. Till about five years ago, he used to irrigate his land with conventional form of the electricity and use diesel to run the motors to ensure no damage to the crops due to lack of irrigation.
In 2018, he came across an advertisement of the state government about a subsidy scheme ‘Chief Minister New and Renewable Energy Solar Pump Scheme’ under which the state was bearing 75 percent cost of installation of solar pumps on the farmlands to ensure better irrigation facilities.
“I installed the solar pump two years ago under the subsidy scheme where I had to invest around Rs. 67,000 for a 3KW solar power. There used to be erratic electricity supply which posed a threat to the irrigation facilities for my crops. Sometimes farmers like us here were forced to use diesel for running their motors. Solar came as a respite for us in ensuring uninterrupted power supply to cater to the energy needs of irrigation pumps throughout the year,” Prasad, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme, while showing his 3 kilowatt (KW) solar panels and the lush green farms lying in close vicinity of his house, told Mongabay-India.
He expressed confidence that he would soon overcome the investment made in the project while adding that the process of availing the scheme from the Bihar Renewable Energy Development Agency (BREDA) was convenient. “I applied online and had to just pay 25 percent of the total cost and soon the whole setup which included a solar panel, motor and other parts was done.”
Ajay Prasad is another farmer from Barachatti block who has used the scheme to get a helping hand for farming. “Solar energy has helped me in reducing my irrigation related stress. Now, I am growing different crops without bothering about irrigation, which is taken care of by the off-grid solar setup that I received under the scheme from the state government,” he said.
However, what irks some farmers is that with these solar pumps the irrigation work can only be taken up during the day as they do not come with battery storage systems.
Under the scheme, the Bihar government was installing solar water pump of either 2HP (horsepower) or 3HP with the total cost of each setup at Rs. 205,800 and Rs. 269,850 respectively while the beneficiaries were asked to pay Rs 51,450 for the 2HP motors and Rs 67,463 for 3HP motor. This was envisioned for farmers having a total farmland between 1-5 acres.
Under the scheme, the government had also earmarked a total of 3,300 solar water pumps for the people from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities which included 1,650 solar pumps of 2HP while 1650 solar pumps of 3HP.
An official from the Gaya District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) told Mongabay-India that in Gaya district alone 102 solar pumps were installed under the scheme in the two years of the scheme which ended after the termination of its period in 2019 .
The solar energy developer agencies that were involved in the process said that the scheme helped several farmers in taking care of their energy needs for irrigation. “It was a very good scheme and it helped several farmers to address their irrigation needs. Here the beneficiary was given solar panels, a controller and motor which were working on Direct Current (DC). The farmers were able to use the pump anytime during the day with the help of solar energy tapped from this plate. It helped several farmers to shun polluting sources of energy,” Amarnath Gupta, Project Director (Eastern Region), MySolar, a solar developer agency hired for the scheme in Bihar told Mongabay-India.
The dark side of Bihar government’s scheme?
In 2012, the Bihar government had started another scheme named Bihar Saur Kranti Sinchai Yojana where 2KW solar pumps were given to farmers with 90 percent capital subsidy and continued this scheme in phases. It helped farmers to reduce their dependence on rains for irrigation besides helping them to shun polluting sources of energy. BREDA in the 2017 Renewable Energy Policy had targeted installation of 10,000 solar pumps by the end of 2022.
Several farmers, who benefited from state government schemes, however, claimed that their 2HP or 3HP motors were not good enough to irrigate adequate farmlands. They also complained about the non-utility of solar pumps during nights as there was no provision of batteries under the state solar irrigation schemes.
Studies validated the concerns of less power produced from 2HP/3HP solar pumps. A 2016 study claimed that 2HP solar pumps had limited irrigation capabilities besides hinting towards its confinement to the elites in the villages rather than being extended to farmers from other income levels and landholdings.
Farmers like Jagdev Prasad from Barachatti informed Mongabay-India that their adoption of solar pumps encouraged many fellow villagers to follow suit but they were waiting for a scheme that could help them financially with subsidies to make solar pumps affordable in rural areas.
Read more: Solar power station at Bihar’s ‘first solar village’ is now a makeshift cattle shed
Farmers are now waiting for roll out of PM-Kusum scheme
While the 2017 ‘Chief Minister New and Renewable Energy Solar Pump scheme’ has come to an end, farmers from the state are now waiting for central government’s scheme such as the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evem Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) which has similar objectives besides having additional benefits for farmers possessing marshy and pasture land.
One among the three components of the scheme envisages installation of standalone solar powered agricultural pumps of individual capacity upto 7.5 HP. Other provisions include decentralised ground mount solar plants of individual size upto 2 megawatt (MW) besides solarisation of grid connected solar pump capacity upto 7.5HP. Under the scheme, the farmer is supposed to bear 10 percent of the total cost, 30 percent comes through bank loans while the rest comes from the government subsidies.
In 2019, a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and other agencies, which mapped and analysed the solar irrigation potential in Bihar and Rajasthan, advocated for state-level implementation of the PM-KUSUM scheme and other solar pump schemes to integrate with state’s efforts on irrigation.
However, the scheme still remained a non-starter in the state due to many practical reasons.
“Nothing concrete has started in the state as far as the PM-KUSUM scheme is concerned. It is in the approval phase only. The scheme has not been approved by the state as of now. Once that happens, only then we can move ahead. Also, there are some technical and other practical issues and discussions among different stakeholders that are going on,” a source in the Bihar government’s energy department told Mongabay-India, while requesting anonymity.
According to the Bihar government officials, the discussions between Centre and state are going on to finalise the scheme and ensure its early rollout in the state. “PM-KUSUM and other state schemes run in different formats. While in state schemes, BREDA had been made the nodal scheme and it was given the liberty to issue tenders and select vendors, under the PM-KUSUM scheme vendor section and other powers lie with the Centre where state agencies might see less involvement,” another source from the state government explained to Mongabay-India.
However, this delay comes even as the state requires more irrigation for its farmlands. Bihar’s latest Economic Survey also emphasises on the issue. The report claims the rainfall in the state has not been adequate for the irrigation needs.
“As a primarily rainfed agrarian economy, the irregular and uncertain rainfall patterns have a direct bearing on cultivation of crops, especially for water-intensive crops. Also, the rainfall is not equally distributed across the northern and southern plains of Bihar. Most of the rainwater comes through the south-west monsoons, during June to September,” the report claimed.
Banner Image: A woman passes to a solar water pump near Bela in Jehanabad district of Bihar. Photo by-Manish Kumar