Why Tamil Nadu farmers are switching on solar pumps ditching free power

Free, or paid, farmers get erratic power supply in Tamil Nadu. Solar pumps help them have sufficient irrigation for crops. (Photo: N Venugopal)

Working through the day in a Coimbatore manufacturing industry unit, Prem Kumar has often heard his co-workers declare with an unfazed degree of finality that farmers of Tamil Nadu do not deserve free power. Kumar says he has never tried to counter the narrative since he understands where his co-workers are coming from. Industries cross-subsidise free power and so end up paying more per unit of electricity so that the government can supply free electricity to farmers.

The reality many in Tamil Nadu seem to be missing is that only a fraction of farmers in the state get power free of cost. A fact that is reflected in growing number of farmers spending on solar pumps.

Born to a family of farmers, Kumar says, while cross-subsidisation is a truth, it is also true that not every farmer gets electricity free of cost. “It hurts to hear disparaging remarks about farmers enjoying free power because I hail from a farming family and I know the ground reality. Not every farmer gets free power. Even those who get it face a lot of difficulties,” he says.

In 1984, Tamil Nadu was among the first states to promise free power to farmers and for many involved in farming, it remains just that – a promise. With applications pending for up to 20 years, farmers are turning to solar power to meet their irrigation needs.

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