Depleted groundwater levels raises questions on nationwide viability of PM- KUSUM

Twesh Mishra Aurangabad | Updated on August 09, 2019

Representative image   -  B_VELANKANNI RAJ

Farmers on an average have also experienced a dip of 8 feet per year in the water table

The varying and depleting ground water levels has raised questions on the nationwide viability of the subsidised solar pump distribution schemes.

These programs are presently being implemented by state governments (such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh).

The centre is rolling out the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) for the distribution of solar irrigation pumps.

Farmers are keen on acquiring more pumps as it relieves them from the erratic agricultural power supplies from Power Distribution utilities. But some of them, including the farmers of Jalgaon , are also wary of fast depleting groundwater levels that may render the entire scheme ineffective.

The Jalgaon story

Jalgaon’s farmers, who predominantly grow cotton and soybean, say that they have replaced 52 electric pumps in the village with 45 off-grid solar pumps that were provided by the Maharashtra state government.

“The agricultural power supplies were limited to six hours a day and largely to late nights. This made it difficult to irrigate fields. Since solar power is available during the day, it coincides with our irrigation needs and timings,” Nand Kishore Ghuge, a farmer who replaced an electric pump with solar in Jalgaon told BusinessLine.

But there is also a depletion of the groundwater table in the region. Hence, many fear that free power from solar energy may lead to overuse of water.

“We used to initially get water for five hours after switching on a solar pump. Now we get around four hours of water supply after switching on the pump,” Yogesh Dighole, another farmer said.

This is being seen as a result of groundwater levels falling rapidly due to higher use driven by free power supplies.

What does the CSE report say?

A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) titled Silver Bullet: Are Solar Pumps a Panacea for Irrigation, Farmer Distress and Discom Losses? highlights the same issue.

CSE assess that PM KUSUM might result in over-exploitation of groundwater. “In water-scarce regions, solar pumps are unable to provide adequate irrigation due to depleting groundwater,” CSE said.

A CSE Survey conducted with 72 farmers in Jalgaon, Buldhana reported that half of them are assessing a groundwater level depletion by 5 to 10 feet per year. Farmers on an average have experienced a dip of 8 feet per year in the water table.

But the fear of a depleting water table should not be a reason for shunning the solar pump scheme. “The water table replenishment levels vary across the country. There may be this issue in Maharashtra, but in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, adequate rainfall and geology ensures that water tables are replenished regularly so such issues are not likely to arise there,” Principal Scientist, Water Technology Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, D K Singh said.

The situation is different in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh from Maharashtra. According to the CSE, the solar pump scheme intended for small and marginal farmers is benefiting those with larger land holdings. This is because of high procurement costs under the scheme presently run by the state government.

“Giving free solar pumps will result in its misuse, especially since grid power is reliable and cheap. Further, low Feed-in-Tariff will not create incentives for judicious groundwater utilisation,” CSE said.

(The reporter is in Aurangabad on invite of the Centre for Science and Technology)

Published on August 09, 2019

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