Pumping potentiality: studying the socio-material politics of solar irrigation pumps in rural India
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date07/06/2027
Rural electrification and irrigation infrastructure improvements boost agricultural growth, but rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions require a shift in how irrigation pumps should be energised. In this thesis, I study the large-scale use of subsidised solar irrigation pumps in the state of Rajasthan, India using qualitative data derived from interviews and immersive participant ethnography in the districts of Jaipur and Tonk. Drawing from agricultural studies, science and technology studies and anthropology, I add to the debates around the suitability of solar pumps as a welfare policy for India’s agriculture sector in the face of climate change. I investigate how the introduction of solar pumps will impact farming practises, contribute to rural development, and engage Indian policy with global sustainability discourse. I contextualise the emergence of the solar irrigation pump policy within international development flows and climate change diplomacy. I argue that its inception within specific ministries is accompanied by strong bureaucratic silos that prevent water conservation from being an equal priority to emissions reduction in India. I have used a water-energy-food nexus and an intersectional lens for my analysis. Despite existing within a subsidy structure, the technologies accompanying the solar pumping system are costly for farmers. Such expenses, alongside the male/upper-caste makeup of the social networks supporting farmers, e.g., solar pump distributors, extension trainers, government officials, etc. restrict become viable beneficiaries. The current economic and social structure excludes lower-caste and class farmers, especially women, from accessing solar pump subsidies and its range of associated benefits. This study demonstrates the urgent need to develop more socially inclusive and environmentally holistic irrigation policies in India’s adaptation and mitigation work tackling climate change. I hope to provide an evidence-based insight to policymakers, academics, and development practitioners on the social and environmental costs of the limited design and goals of India’s current solar pumping schemes.