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Co-Management of Electricity and Groundwater: An Assessment of Gujarat's Jyotirgram Scheme

In September 2003, the government of Gujarat introduced the Jyotirgram Yojana to improve rural power supply. Two major changes have since taken place: (a) villages get 24 hour three-phase power supply for domestic use, in schools, hospitals, village industries, all subject to metered tariff; and (b) tubewell owners get eight hours/day of power but of full voltage and on a pre-announced schedule. It has, however, offered a mixed bag to medium and large farmers and hit marginal farmers and the landless. This article offers an assessment of the impact of Jyotirgram, and argues that with some refinements it presents a model that other states can follow with profit.

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SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW february 16, 200861JGS is held out as a win-win solution for everyone involved. Studies by the Institute for Rural Management and (IRMA) as wellasbytheCentre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT)narrated myriad ways in whichJGS has improved village life [IRMA nd and Hemchandraacharya North Gujarat University 2004]. Both these studies, however, glossed over the new dynam-ic that theJGS had catalysed in Gujarat’s agriculture. In early 2007, IWMIundertook a quick assessment of the impacts of the JGS in 55 villages spread over 10 districts with the help of local researchers. The study laid particular emphasis on its impact on Gujarat’s groundwater economy. This paper synthesises these case studies to evolve a first-cut assessment of JGS, and its lessons for co-management of electricity and groundwater. Our findings are in total agreement with the highly positive assessment of the IRMA and CEPTstudies: therefore, we deal with these in sum-mary form but discuss in greater detail the agrarian impacts of JGS that have so far remained unexplored.3 Impact on Quality of Rural LifeThanks to theJGS, rural Gujarat today enjoys 24-hour power sup-ply of quality unrivalled in rural areas elsewhere in India. All our case studies uniformly attested that for common villagers of the state,JGS has resulted in tremendous improvement in the quality of daily life. Power cuts, which were endemic, have mostly gone; and so have voltage fluctuations. For a long-time before the JGS, rural life as well as economy were afflicted by unpredictable and frequently interrupted power supply of low quality that made it impossible to organise daily chores or economic activity. Women were constantly worried about securing domestic water supply; livestock keepers had to time milking and feeding of cattle according to power supply; schoolteachers and students were anxious about power outages while using laboratory equip-ments, computers and television sets. During Gujarat’s hot sum-mer, the inability to operate fans made the afternoon heat insuf-ferable in schools, shops, workshops, homes and rural hospitals. JGS has helped to bridge a major divide between rural and urban life. Improved power supply has led to better drinking wa-ter supply for longer hours, improved street lighting, use of televi-sion, radio, kitchen gadgets and fans. Women in many villages used time saved from household chores in supplemental income generation. JGS paved the way for better functioning of schools, primary health centres, dairy co-ops, and better communication.4 Impact on Non-farm Rural EconomyJGS has given a big shot in the arm to existing and new non-farm economic enterprises generating new livelihoods and jobs. JGS has reduced the cost of non-farm businesses such as flour and rice mills which now do the same amount of work by consuming less power because they get full-voltage, uninterrupted three-phase power supply round the clock.4 Many of those we interviewed reported 30-35 per cent fall in their bimonthly power bill post-JGS. Many rice mills owners we met increased their daily out-put by three times, created more local employment opportunity andreduced maintenance and repair costs, breakdowns and working capital requirements. Many shops, especially those vending perishable food items, telephone exchanges and STD booths, computer training centres had to make significant invest-ment in invertors or generators. Inverters and generator sets have by and large disappeared; and commercial outfits are now able to operate in a continuous manner. In Banaskantha as well as Bhavnagar villages, we found dia-mond polishing units shifting to villages to save on expensive space in towns; the resultant demand for labour has been so strong as to create farm labour shortages especially during har-vest time. In some of the villages, flour mills were running at great cost with diesel engines pre-JGS; now these have turned electric. In Bhavnagar district,JGS stimulated growth in employ-ment, and wage rates, in diamond polishing, tailoring, knitting, cold drink, vending, welding and small oil mills. Many women, unable to commute to urban centres of diamond polishing trade, have now begun to work in newly opened diamond cutting/ polishing units in their own villages. According to a local leader, “thanks toJGS,Bhavnagar villages have witnessed more pro-gress and better incomes during the last three years than in 50 yearsbefore”.According to another, “JGS has good and badthings for farmers; but it has only good things for the village as a whole”. In most districts, electronic and electrical repair shops experi-enced major improvements in efficiency and speed. Welding ma-chine owners and tyre puncture shops improved their business substantially. Demand for electronic products – TV sets,DVD play-ers, tape recorders – increased rapidly. There is one sector of the non-farm economy which, however, was hit hard by the JGS: the motor/pump repair and service in-dustry. During recent decades, rural Gujarat has witnessed boom-ing ancillary trade tied to tubewell irrigation. Some of this in-volved drillers, rig owners, cement pipe manufacturers, gangs specialising in laying buried pipeline networks, specialists for taking submersible motors out of tubewells and for installing them inside tubewells, specialists for adding new columns to chase falling water levels. Some more had to do with mainte-nance and repair of tubewell equipment, especially pumps and motors, manufacturing and installing capacitors (tota’s). This second trade proliferated as rapidly as Gujarat’s farm power supply deteriorated. Thanks to JGS, these pump repairing units and motor-winders have fallen on bad days. It is said that JGS has killed three birds with one stone: it has provided succour to tubewell owners by easing the huge burden of maintenance and repair that they had to shoulder all these years; it has saved GEB from big losses; it has also saved groundwater tables from receding. 5 Impact on Tubewell Owners Farmers we interviewed welcomed five major changes that the JGS has brought about: (1) Continuous power supply: BeforeJGS, constant tripping in farm power supply made it impossible for farmers to keep their irrigation schedules. Frequent tripping wasted water and power; motors suffered increased wear and tear; tubewell owners, water buyers as well as hired labourers suffered forced idle time during the power outages. By providing power with greater continuity and fewer interruptions,JGS has benefited farmers. (2) Full voltage: Low and fluctuating voltages, in part due to ram-pant use of tota’s by farmers themselves, was another problem.
SPECIAL ARTICLEfebruary 16, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly62This resulted in frequent burn out of motors, and high wear and tear. Post-JGS, it is almost impossible for most farmers to use ca-pacitors, which besides improving voltage also helped to improve order and discipline in electricity use in agriculture. (3) Reliability and predictability: BeforeJGS, farmers never knew in advance precisely when power would be supplied and withdrawn. Tubewell owners and their customers were always on tenterhooks, waiting all day for power to come so that they could begin irrigation. Auto switches were widely used on tube-wells which got switched on as soon as power supply started. After the JGS, farmers get their ration of eight hours of power during a fixed time schedule, known to everyone, during day and night in alternate weeks, making irrigation scheduling easier for tubewell owners and their customers. (4) Externally imposed restraint: Some farmers grudgingly re-counted, that theJGS successfully attacked the common-property externality inherent in groundwater irrigation. It did this by effectively putting a cap on collective groundwater withdrawal, in a uniformand just manner. Farmers everywhere recognised that unbridled pumping of groundwater must eventually prove the highway to disaster; and that on their own, farmers would never forge collective self-regulation. JGS has done it for them by rationing power uniformly on all tubewells across the state.A similar sentiment expressed about the use of capacitors (tota’s). Many farmers felt guilty about the use of tota’s but used them simply because everyone else did so. Post-JGS, all farmers have been forced to give up on tota’s. With the separation of tubewell and non-tubewell feeders, use of tota’s to run tubewells has be-come technically impossible for most farmers. Moreover, the use of tota’s is also vigorously monitored and heavily penalised. The sense of relief was particularly notable in hard rock areas like Sabarkantha, where wells run out of water before pumps run out of power during a day. BeforeJGS, there was a mad race amongst tota-using tubewell owners here to pump as much groundwater as they could under a “use it or lose it” regime. By abolishing tota’s, theJGS took the first big step towards a sustainable groundwater management regime that most tubewell owners welcomed. (5) New connections: When the JGS was completed, the govern-ment of Gujarat lifted the virtual embargo on new tubewell con-nections and began offering new connections in a planned man-ner depending upon the availability of groundwater and power.5 In parts of Saurashtra, where the profusion of check dams and recharge structures have increased recharge to the hard-rock aq-uifers, new connections were released. This was also the case in some parts of central and south Gujarat.6 Negative Perceptions of Farmers If the discussion so far suggests that all farmers are unreservedly happy with theJGS, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the negative sentiment among farmers is stronger and more widespread than the positive feeling. Farmers viewed full-voltage, reliable power supply as nothing more than sugar coating for the bitter pill of rationed power supply. Particularly peeved were tubewell owners in groundwater abundant areas of central and southern Gujarat who operated their tubewells for up to 18-20 hours daily using capacitors (tota’s). Now they are forced to make do with just eight hours. Vibrant water markets have been cen-tral to Gujarat’s groundwater irrigation economy, and essential for the viability of tubewell investments now for eight decades [Shah 1993; Hardiman 1998]. But these are now under siege, thanks to effective power rationing. Farmers we interviewed were bitter about promises unkept, of eight hours of continuous, full voltage, three-phase power.6 Farmers still face frequent trips, lower than full voltage and ef-fective hours of daily power supply of six to six and a half hours against the promised eight. Night power supply, every alternate week is another sore point: night irrigation is inconvenient and hazardous; and finding labour to work in the fields at night is try-ing. The crucial issue, however, is effective rationing. Many farm-ers complained that “it is unfair on the government’s part to di-vert agricultural power for residential users. Agriculture is the back bone of the village economy. When agriculture itself is threatened, how can a village enjoy better life?” In Vadodara, farmers lamented that “the government has pursued rural deve-lopment at the cost of agriculture”. In Dahod, tribal farmers com-plained, “but for us farmers, Jyotirgram has benefited all else”. In Kheda, all our respondents, including women members of fami-lies, strongly felt that villages should not enjoy 24 hour power supply if it comes at the cost of agriculture. Some suggested that 24 hours single-phase power should be supplied to the residential users; but three phase power line to industries and water works should also be separated, and a uniform 12 hours continuous power supply should be ensured to farm and non-farm producers.7 Impact on Marginal Farmers and the LandlessThe brunt of the adverse socio-economic impact of the JGS fell on water-buying marginal farmers, tenants and landless farm labourers. This large section of Gujarat’s agrarian poor depends upon tubewell owners to sell them reliable pump irrigation at an affordable price; and ironically, the much-despised totasystem ultimately benefited these classes. With drastic dimunition in pump irrigation sales, the agrarian poor are left in the lurch. We encountered only three situations where this did not happen. First, in water-stressed hard-rock areas like Bhavnagar where, thanks to limited availability of water in wells, pump irrigation markets here were all but absent even beforeJGS. Small and mar-ginal farmers here were rain-fed before theJGS and they are rain-fed now, without any further worsening in their position. Second, in canal irrigated areas where canal irrigation, high tubewell density, high water tables and good well yields combine to make eight hours of power sufficient for meeting the villages’ irrigation demand. Post-JGS, terms of sharecropping have re-mained largely unchanged, which means that landowners have absorbed the JGS shock. Third, in the prosperous and groundwater rich south Gujarat where most farmers had their own electrified bore-wells and water markets were limited. Post-JGS, what little pump irrigation trade existed shrank even further; although we found no major increase in water price. Almost everywhere else, our researchers found that marginal farmers and landless labourers were hit hard in several different ways: (a) groundwater markets shrank, and irrigation access to buyers declined; (b) pump irrigation prices in cash sales post-JGS
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Happy better quality power meets their irrigation requirements a Quite happy because groundwater availability is a greater constraint an extent of irrigation than power availability
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