Approaches for Rationing

The strongest piece of evidence in support of our argument for intelligent rationing of power supply as the way to go is that intuitively most SEBs in India have already been doing some kind of rationing of farm power supply now for more than a decade. Andhra Pradesh, where the new government announced free power, also announced that farm power supply would henceforth be restricted to 7 h/day. Nobody - farmers included - considers 24 h, uninterrupted power supply to agriculture to be either a feasible proposition or a defensible demand under the flat tariff regime in force. Negotiations between farmer groups and governments almost everywhere in India are carried out in terms of the minimum hours of daily power supply the government can guarantee.

Default system of rationing

Constant hours/day of power supply to farmers, which is the current default, is the least intelligent way of rationing power supply to agriculture because it fails to achieve a good 'fit' between the schedule of power supply and farmers' desired irrigation schedule. It leaves farmers frustrated on days when their crops need to be watered the most; on the other hand, on many other days when the need for irrigation is not high, it leads to wasteful use of power and groundwater. From where the SEBs' present power-rationing practices stand today, they only have to gain by achieving a better fit between power supply schedules and farmers' irrigation schedules. Farmers keep demanding that the 'constant hours/day' must be raised because the default system does not provide enough power when they need it the most. There are a number of ways rationing of power supply in agriculture can be carried out to raise farmer satisfaction and control power subsidies provided (i) it reduces farmers' uncertainty about the timing of power availability; (ii) it achieves a better fit between power supply schedules and irrigation schedules; or (iii) both. We suggest a few illustrative approaches that need to be considered and tried out.

Agronomic scheduling

Ideally, SEBs should aim to achieve the 'best fit' by matching power supply schedules with irrigation needs of farmers. In this approach, the power utility constantly (i) studies irrigation behaviour of farmers in regions and subregions by monitoring cropping patterns, cropping cycles, rainfall events; (ii) matches power supply schedules to meet irrigation needs; and (iii) minimizes supply



A Mismatch between power supply and irrigation needs; existing system in which the farmer is frustrated.

A win-win scenario; power supply is good and reliable when the irrigation needs B are high (satisfied farmer), and power supply is low when irrigation needs are low (volume of subsidy is controlled).

Fig. 11.7. Improving farmer satisfaction and controlling electricity subsidies through intelligent management of farm power supply.

in off-peak irrigation periods (see Fig. 11.7). The advantages of such a system are that (i) farmers are happier; (ii) total power supply to agriculture can be reduced; (iii) power and water waste is minimized; and (iv) level of subsidy availed is within SEB control. The key disadvantage of this approach is that it is highly management-intensive, and therefore difficult to operationalize.

Demand-based scheduling

In the demand-based approach, feeder-level farmer committees or other representational bodies of farmers assume the responsibility of ascertaining members' requirements of power, and provide a power supply schedule to the utility for a fixed number of allowable hours for each season. This is a modified version of agronomic scheduling in which the power utility's research and monitoring task is assumed by feeder committees. This may make it easier to generate demand schedules but more difficult to serve it. Moreover, the organizational challenge this approach poses is formidable.

Canal-based scheduling

Tube well irrigators outside canal commands justify demands for power subsidies by comparing their lot with canal irrigators who get cheap canal irrigation without any capital investment of their own. However, under the present degenerate flat tariff, tube well irrigators often have the best of both worlds. At 10 h/day of power supply, an Andhra Pradesh tube well irrigator could in theory use 300-500 m3 of water every day of the year. In contrast, under some of the best canal commands, farmers get irrigation for 10-15 times in an entire year. In this approach, power rationing aims to remove the inequity between tube well and canal irrigators by scheduling power supply to mimic the irrigation schedule of a benchmarked public irrigation system. This can drastically reduce power subsidies from current levels, but for that very reason, will face stiff resistance from tube well-irrigating farmers.

Zonal roster

An approach to rationing that is simpler to administer is to divide the state into, say, seven zones, each assigned a fixed day of the week when it gets 20 h of uninterrupted, quality power throughout the year; on the rest of the days, it gets 2 h. This is somewhat like a weekly turn in the wara-bandi system in canal irrigation systems in India Punjab and Pakistan Punjab. The advantages of this approach are: (i) it is easy to administer; (ii) agricultural load for the state as a whole remains constant, so it becomes easy to manage for SEB also; (iii) level of subsidies are controlled; and (iv) power supply to each zone is predictable, so farmers can plan their irrigation easily. Disadvantages are: (i) farmers in deep water table areas or areas with poor aquifers (as Saurashtra in Gujarat) would be unhappy; and (ii) zonal rostering will not mimic seasonal fluctuations in irrigation demand as well as agronomic rationing would do.

Adjusted zonal roaster

The zonal roaster can help farmers plan their cropping pattern and irrigation schedules by reducing uncertainty in power supply but it does not do much to improve the 'fit' between irrigation need and power supply across seasons. In most of India, for instance, following the same zonal roaster for kharif and rabi seasons makes little sense. Modifying the zonal roaster system so that power supply offered is higher in winter and summer than in monsoon season would improve the seasonal fit as well as reduce uncertainty.

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