ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Karnataka’s ‘Surya Raitha’ Experiment

Lessons for PM–KUSUM

Solar-powered irrigation has expanded in India at an unprecedented pace—the number of solar irrigation pumps—from less than 4,000 in 2012 to more than 2,50,000 by 2019. It has been argued that besides giving farmers an additional and reliable source of income, grid-connected SIPs also incentivise efficient energy and water use—critical for sustaining groundwater irrigation. The Surya Raitha scheme was the country’s first, state-driven initiative for solarisation of agriculture feeders by replacing subsidy-guzzling, inefficient electric pumps with energy-efficient, net-metered SIPs. An early appraisal of Surya Raitha lauded the scheme as a smart initiative and argued that it could set an example for promoting solar power as a remunerative crop. However, the scheme was eventually executed as a single feeder pilot with some design changes in Nalahalli panchayat from 2015–18. The authors visited the pilot in 2017–18 and 2018–19 to assess if it had delivered the promises of Surya Raitha scheme. The results are a mixed bag and offer important lessons for implementation and scaling out of component C of the Government of India’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan policy.


The Surya Raitha pilot was a pioneering attempt by the Government of Karnataka to solarise an entire electricity feeder by replacing 250 electric pumps with solar irrigation pumps (SIPs) installed in farmers’ fields in 2015. The benefits and implications of grid-connected SIPs have been in discussion for quite some time. Several researchers have argued that solarising electric pumps and guaranteeing surplus electricity buy back, apart from greening the electricity as well as irrigation, could deliver multiple benefits such as better management of energy–water and improved climate resilience in agriculture (Kishore et al 2014; Roblin 2016; Shah and Verma 2014a, 2014b). Others have critiqued this idea and have emphasised the alternative mechanisms for groundwater management such as pro rata metering of electricity (Sahasranaman et al 2018). This paper presents a preliminary analysis of energy and water use in irrigation in the Surya Raitha experiment and the key changes in agriculture in the selected region. ­Given that electric pumps will be solarised at a scale in component C of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM–KUSUM) scheme, the flagship scheme of the Government of India for solarising irrigation with an estimated outlay of `34,035 crore (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy 2020), this initial assessment provides useful lessons and insi­ghts for improving the implementation of the scheme and achieving the intended benefits.

The idea of solarising tube wells and buying back surplus ­solar energy from farmers was first picked up and aired by the late finance minister Arun Jaitley in the union budget of 2014. Soon thereafter, the Government of Karnataka announced the Surya Raitha scheme to be implemented state-wide. But eventually it was executed only as a single feeder pilot in Nalahalli panchayat in Ramanagra district of Karnataka. Harobele F2 feeder, supplying electricity to irrigation pumpsets in seven villages—(i) Harobele, (ii) Muthurayanapura, (iii) Rayappana Doddi, (iv) Kadle Doddi, (v) Nalahalli, (vi) Uyyamballi, and (vii) Doddahalahalliwas selected by the Bangalore Electri­city Supply Company (BESCOM), the local distribution companies (DISCOM), and the nodal agency for executing the project. The feeder exclusively supplied electricity to 280 authorised irrigation pumps and 150 additional unauthorised pumps with a modal pump size of 5 HP and a total (actual) feeder load of 2.213 MW (BESCOM 2015a).

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Updated On : 27th Nov, 2021
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