Breaking the Groundwater-Energy Nexus

The current regime of power subsidies for agriculture has had a major role to play in deteriorating water tables in most parts of India. These very same power subsidies fuelled the Green Revolution but given the emerging stresses on groundwater, an imaginative way needs to be found, which breaks the groundwater-energy nexus, without hurting farmer interests. The single most effective solution found by States has been the physical segregation of power feeders to provide 24x7 electricity to rural habitations and non-farm users, with separate feeders giving 3- phase predictable supply to agriculture, which is rationed in terms of total time, at a flat tariff. This provides requisite power to schools, hospitals and the non-farm economy, while allowing rationed supply of power to agriculture, which can be at off-peak hours. For example, the Government of Gujarat invested US $1250 million during 2003-2006 to separate 800,000 tubewells from other rural connections and imposed an 8 hour/day power ration but of high quality and full voltage. This was combined with a massive watershed development programme for groundwater recharge. The net result has been: [a] halving of the power subsidy; [b] stabilized groundwater draft and [c] improved power supply in the rural economy. Combined with other measures such as High Voltage Distribution System (HVDS), specially designed transformers and energy-efficient pump sets, this could be a better way of delivering power subsidies that cuts energy losses and stabilises the water table at the same time. Major investments are proposed in this direction in the 12th Plan.

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