Wednesday, 7 December, 2022

Solar irrigation pump project hits a snag

► Cost of a pump varies from Tk 10 lakh to Tk 30 lakh ► Farmers have to pay 35pc of the cost ► Only 525 farmers’ applications finalised so far, which is 25pc of the target ► ADB releases only 7pc of the committed fund due to slow progress ► Project to ease 19.3MW power load from national grid

Lukewarm response from the farmers along with alleged inefficient management have put the scheme to install solar-powered irrigation pumps in limbo.

The project, launched in 2018 to ease pressure on the national power grid, witnessed only 30 percent overall with 3.75 percent of pumps installed until March 2022.

It was revealed in an inspection report of project watchdog Implementation Monitoring & Evaluation Division (IMED).

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project of Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (BREB) in May 2018 with a December 2020 completion deadline, which was later extended to December 2022.

It aims to curtail 19.3MW power load from the national grid alongside cutting 13,624 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, the project financier Asian Development Bank (ADB) fund’s tenure is close to the June 30, 2023 deadline. ADB is supposed to provide Tk 3.24 billion out of Tk 3.94 billion revised project cost. 

The lender is yet to respond to BREB’s request for extending the deadline by another two years, sources at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) said.

BREB sources said the project did not see progress as the farmers are not very much interested in the scheme because they have to pay 35 percent of pump’s cost while the government is providing 65 percent money.

Out of the 35 percent pump cost, the subscribers have to pay 10 percent in advance without seeing the pump quality and the rest of the money can be paid in 10 years, sources added.

As a result, farmers are not inclined to take risk of installing solar pumps with seeing them physically

For a three-horse power pump, farmers have to pay Tk3.40 lakh out of Tk 10 lakh. The amount will be higher for a 15-horse power pump, which is tagged with Tk 30 lakh price.

Project Director Shakil Ibne Sayeed said: “Multiple reasons are responsible for delaying the project. We’ve not got subscribers on time.” 

“The subscribers have to pay without getting any hands-on experience of the solar panel and the pumps. Getting subscribers is a problem as other projects lack subscriber’s payment whereas it has the payment system,” he explained.

The pumps are supposed to be procured from Italy and the solar panels are scheduled to come from China. However, the contractors have been delaying the supply, according to BREB officials.

The IMED in its report found that the selection of project beneficiary is still underway and so far application of only 525 farmers have been finalised, which is 25.6 percent of the target.

The farmers, who had shown interest during the feasibility study of the scheme, finally declined to install pumps because of the advance payment system and Covid-19 pandemic crisis, it said.

IMED assessed that the target of installing 705 pumps by June 2022 at the first phase would actually take two years more time.

Completing installation of the rest of 1,295 pumps won’t end before December 2025 after clearing all the complexities with the contractors, the project watchdog also thinks.

The schedule of pump and solar panel supply has so far been changed four times with request of the contractor, according to project officials.

Former lead economist at the World Bank’s Dhaka office Dr Zahid Hussain sees mismanagement and inefficiency behind the project delay.

“The whole world is now running after solar power. Had the 2,000 solar pumps been installed, the power load shedding would have come down and the farming sector would also benefit from it,” he remarked.

“It is unfortunate that this project has not been completed on time. Irregularities and inefficiency are common in many projects and this project is no exception,” he said, adding that the project could be avoided if more attention were paid to it.

Because of the slow progress in solar panel and pump installation work, ADB has released Tk 225.7 million, which is only 6.96 percent of the lender’s committed fund.