Solar battles between political parties
Solar battles between political parties | Photo Credit: KUMAR SS

The residential rooftop solar segment was lying moribund, barely displaying a twitch of life. And then came politics. 

On January 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came up with the announcement of a big push to residential rooftop solar industry came, riding piggy-back on the upbeat, post-Ayodhya pran-prathishta mood. In doing that, Modi delivered a sucker punch to State governments of BJP’s political rivals, who were riding the populist wave, giving free electricity to people. The push for a hundred million solar rooftops for residential units was presented as a social welfare plus climate change fighting measure; the political underpinning of the move was subtle. 

Today, the Finance Minister was anything but subtle. ‘Muft bijli’ (free power) she proudly proclaimed. The poor household, she said, will be enabled to obtain (emphasis added) up to 300 units of electricity free of cost every year, she said. 300 units! Well, well! DMK gave Tamil Nadu 100 units free. Congress gave 100 units to Rajasthan free.

Arvind Kejriwal gave Delhi 200 units free. And now comes BJP with 300 units on a platter. The Finance Minister dragged the pecuniary benefits into daylight, pointing out that households will be able to save between ₹15,000 and ₹18,000 a year. 

Only, it is not free. The household will of course have to pay for installing the rooftop solar plant, which will cost around ₹65,000 a kW. (A kW of capacity will give you a unit of electricity every hour of bright sunshine.) But BJP-government, one hears, has a trick up its sleeve — it is asking public sector undertakings to ‘gift’ small-sized rooftop solar plants to poor households.

As for the not-so-poor, banks and NBFCs are being ‘encouraged’ to come up with rooftop loan products.  

So, the suryodaya yojana may be a well-meant welfare measure. Maybe there is nothing political about it. But you can’t say that of the timing of its announcement.