The Steel-Cage: Need to reform the UPSC Civil Services Examination

Editor: Manas Gubbi
June 6, 2021

Each year in India, an average of 4 lakh candidates appear for the Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The notification for  CSE 2021 has already been released by the UPSC, and the approximate number of vacancies is 712, a reduction from 796 in 2020 and 896 in 2019. The exam is for the recruitment of candidates for top administrative positions that are generalist in nature. Graduates and postgraduates from across the spectrum of higher education tend to compete in this examination. With the dream to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, these candidates prefer to appear for a long-drawn-out examination process conducted by the UPSC every year. This essay argues that the nature of the UPSC CSE needs urgent reforms, as it presently contributes to the erosion of India’s precious human capital. 

Opportunity cost 

The opportunity cost of preparation for UPSC CSE is high. In economics, opportunity cost refers to the benefits that one decides to let-go, when one chooses one option over another. It incorporates both the explicit and implicit costs of the decision.  When a candidate decides to appear for the UPSC CSE, he may forgo the immediate opportunities available in terms of jobs, career progression, better salaries, and higher studies. This is one part of the story. For the other half, one needs to calculate the cost of appearing for this examination. On average, the cost per aspirant is pegged around Rs.1.5 to 2 lacs just for coaching over the entire examination cycle. Adding the cost of living in metro cities that are the hub of the coaching industry, the entire cost can be around Rs.4 lacs per candidate for one attempt.

Now, let us put it in proper context. According to reports on data from the Household Consumer Expenditure Survey (2017-18) conducted by the National Statistical Office, the Monthly Per Capita Consumer Expenditure (MPCE) has reduced by 3.7% between 2011-12 and 2017-18.1 The decline was more in rural areas in India, as compared to the urban areas. In addition, the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) highlighted that the rate of unemployment in India has peaked to a 45 year high of 6.1%.2 The data also shows a summary decline in the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for people in the working age. This is surprisingly accompanied by a rise in the number of NEET individuals – Not in Education, Employment or Training. This is the group that the UPSC CSE aspirants belong to. 

Considering the above data, one may conclude that in an economy with fewer jobs, declining household income and expenditure, the precious human and economic capital in the country is diverted to the preparation of UPSC CSE, with all its subjectivity and uncertainty. The question is- why do the aspirants not realise this and make a course correction when necessary?

Sunk Cost & the Vicious Circle 

The three-stage examination cycle consisting of the Preliminary examination, the Main examination and the Personality Interview, stretches for one complete year. The preparation, due to the syllabus & the fierce competition, generally requires dedicated study of at least 8 to 12 months, prior to the preliminary stage. In effect, any serious candidate taking the first attempt at the CSE would be required to study for nearly 2 years to complete one examination cycle. If they fail to qualify in any of these three stages, they are required to undergo the entire examination cycle again the following year if they choose to do so. Also, the score obtained in the examination in one particular year is valid only for that year. This ensures that the sunk cost becomes extremely high for the aspirant, as the number of attempts taken at the examination increases. Sunk Cost is a retrospective cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Thus, with each additional attempt, the aspirant gets entrenched deeper and deeper in this vicious cycle of successive stages of the examination. The subjective nature of the examination and the lack of objective self-evaluation by the candidates, makes them discard the risk involved and they continue to chase the mirage of becoming an IAS, year after year. (See Fig.1)  

Erosion of Skills

According to the latest Annual Report (2018-19) published by the UPSC, among the candidates recommended by UPSC as per the final merit list, 77.7% were graduates while 22.3% were post-graduates. The analysis of their graduation and optional subjects for the CSE is shown in the figure below. 

Fig.2. The cross-domain shift by recommended candidates

Source: Data for recommended candidates from UPSC Annual Report (2018-19)

Extrapolating this to all aspirants for the CSE, it can be concluded that the majority of the science, engineering and medical graduates make a cross-domain shift from their original background subject (technical/professional) to humanities subjects while appearing for the CSE.3 This shift is based on the assumption that it is easy to complete the study and score better in the examination taking the humanities subjects like geography, political science, anthropology, etc. as optional subjects, rather than their original graduation stream. Also, not all science and technical graduation subjects are included by UPSC as choices for selecting the optional subject. The bad news is—most of these candidates making the cross-domain shift don’t qualify!

Not only is the human capital non-utilised, but the long-drawn-out process of examination also erodes the domain-specific abilities and skills acquired by the candidates during their graduation. Without giving due consideration to their aptitude, interest or their skills, a large number of educated youth continue to be lured by the power, prestige and aura surrounding the IAS and the allied services.

Most candidates who take multiple attempts at this examination unsuccessfully, continue to drain the resources of their families, while themselves becoming unfit for the rapidly evolving techno-economic milieu in the job market. This needs to change, especially considering the Covid-19 pandemic and its adverse impact on the Indian economy and society. With declining incomes, depleting assets, rising poverty and uncertainties about their livelihoods, the fate of the aspirants and their families cannot be subjected to the cruelty of an examination system that robs them of their hard-earned savings, their productive energies, and their professional skills. Is this cost justified? Let us take a look at the relevant numbers.

The problem  

With a youthful demographic profile, burgeoning middle-class, the explosion of aspirations, and the lack of commensurate increase in good-paying job opportunities in the market, the number of candidates appearing in the UPSC CSE each year has remained at a very high level as compared to the aggregate posts available (See Fig.3 and Fig.4). In addition, the number of final selections every year have remained nearly stagnant at around 1,000, as data from the last decade indicates. The only exception was the year 2014 when vacancies rose to 1,364, probably the result of a populist step by the government facing a highly contested general election that year. 

Each candidate appears for the Civil Service Examination with his or her sight firmly set on the top two or three services. The rate of selection in this examination is declining consistently over the years, as the vacancies decrease and the number of aspirants increases (See Fig.5). The average percentage of selection is 0.28%. The rejection rate is 99.72%. Among those selected, the percentage of candidates getting the top services, effectively considered the service of their choice, is approximately around 25%. This means that nearly 75% of the candidates who qualify the rigorous UPSC CSE do not get their preferred service allocation. This forces many of these candidates to reappear in the examination for improving their ranks the following year. Thus, even for those who have qualified the examination, albeit with a lower than expected rank, the process of examination does not effectively end. And after so much effort, if they are forced to accept the service they are already in, how motivated would these officers be to do justice to their role?

For a general category candidate, the number of attempts permitted in CSE is six, and the maximum permissible age limit is 32 years. Both these parameters are relaxed for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and SC/ST candidates. This means, the cumulative number of unsuccessful candidates that keep on appearing for the civil services examination, both at the Centre and State levels, goes on increasing each year. This talent, locked for 4-5 years in a pipeline, without a good job or hard skills, is a loss of precious human capital that our country cannot afford. 

A common examination system with a generalist bias

The UPSC is a constitutional body and a central recruiting agency. Through the Civil Services Examination conducted each year, selected candidates are allocated across 19 different services. In effect, the same examination, process and yardstick is being applied to select candidates who would be working as officers in Indian Foreign Service, Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and the Indian Revenue Service and so on. Though a candidate is required to indicate service priority in his/her application form, the process doesn’t take into consideration the aptitude of the candidate while the service is being allotted, as the allotment process follows the merit-cum-rank basis in the common examination.

After their selection, the candidates are trained to be generalist officers handling various administrative posts in the government. The post allotted and the nature of work may be completely different not only from the educational background of the candidate, but also his/her aptitude and interest. For example, a graduate or postgraduate student from literature background and interested in Indian Foreign Service, may get allocated to, and be required to work in the central audit & accounts department or the Income Tax department. This raises serious questions about person-job fit.

The cost of failure  

The Administrative Reforms Commission-II (10th report) discusses the problem of loss of human capital due to the structure of the UPSC CSE.4 After aspirants have exhausted their attempts at the CSE, they attempt to re-enter the market. It is important to realise that the resources spent on the education and training of the rejected 99.72% of the candidates do not get the desired output and outcome in the economy. Apart from the financial cost that the families of these candidates are forced to bear, there is a tremendous psychological cost that these candidates pay during and after the process of examination is over. Having exhausted their 4-5 years in preparation, the 99.72% candidates are then forced to confront the harsh realities of a ruthless job market. These aspirants find it difficult to return back to their professional fields and thus, settle for various posts advertised by the State Service Commissions, Staff Selection Commission and the Banking sector, etc. The sheer number of candidates generates cut-throat competition for these posts too, further consuming the aspirants time. 

These candidates, having taken a long gap to prepare for the CSE, do not have any certificate or degree which justifies this gap, nor any tangible experience or skill, that may make them eligible for employment elsewhere. This takes a toll on their productivity, self-confidence and their emotional health, as they are battered by repeated setbacks in the examination process. In essence, when the advancement in technology has brought the world on a cusp of change, the professionals in India are chasing the mirage of ‘permanent’ government jobs. And in this tussle to enter the formal public sector, the demographic dividend of India could be inadvertently turning to informal jobs. Not to forget the fact that these candidates, the graduates and the post-graduates, represent the fortunate one-fourth of their age cohort, who get an opportunity for higher education in India. This precious human resource gets trapped in the vicious circle of repeated attempts at UPSC CSE, while remaining voluntarily unemployed and economically dependent. 

What can be done to address the issue?  

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the inefficiencies in the rigid administrative system in India. It has also highlighted the limitations of the Consultant Culture that most ministries and departments in the government have opted for. The process of reform has to begin with the reforms in the system of examination. The provision of lateral entry cannot be the substitute for administrative reforms. 

First, the Civil Services Examination, in its present form, needs unbundling.5 The services need to be grouped on the basis of the required skills and aptitude. The Stage-1 Examination can be common for all the services, whereas the Stage-2 Examination can be organised separately for different groups of services. This will curtail the generalist nature of the process and make it more specialised and focussed. The Detailed Application Form, submitted by aspirants to the UPSC, should emphasise on aspirants’ skills rather than being just a summary of their personal information. 

Second, the Preliminary stage of the UPSC CSE can be conducted as a Stage-1 standardised computer-based online test, the scores of which can be held valid for at least two years.5 For Stage-2 and Stage-3, the results can be considered as valid only for that particular examination cycle. The questions in Stage-1 can be based on Current Affairs, Critical Thinking, Quantitative Aptitude, Logical Reasoning, Analytical Skills, Data interpretation and English Comprehension. This Stage-1 examination may be conducted at least twice a year, to save the candidates time and effort. 

As the results of Stage-1 can be obtained in real-time, the Main Examination i.e. Stage-2, for various groups of services can be conducted within 45-60 days after the preliminary examination. The syllabus for the Stage-2 examination can be curated separately for each group of Service, making it more relevant to the Service requirements. This Stage-2 examination should also be conducted in the online format, based on a syllabus covering the relevant areas for the Service concerned, in addition to General Studies, Case Studies, Ethics & Aptitude. Stage-3 of the examination can be the Personality Test combined with a descriptive Essay Paper. This would help shorten the examination cycle. In this format, UPSC can conduct the Civil Service Examination twice a year. This would require adjustments in the training schedule at the Service Training Academies to allow for the intake of selected candidates twice a year.  

Third, the age-limit can be upto 28 years for general category, with relaxations for the disadvantaged sections. This age-limit is more than what has been recommended by various civil service reforms committees, like Y.K Alagh Committee (recommended age-limit of 26 years), P.C Hota Committee (recommended age-limit of 24 years), the 10th Report ‘Refurbishing of Personnel Administration & Scaling New Heights’ of ARC-II (recommended age-limit of 25 years), Baswan Committee (recommended age-limit of 26 years) and recently, the India@75 Report by the NITI Aayog (recommended age-limit of 27 years).6 This would help address the concerns of aspirants from rural areas, who would get sufficient time for preparation. The number of permissible attempts for aspirants must be reduced to three, which would not consume more than 2-3 years for any serious candidate, in the new format of the examination. 

Fourth, the mandatory requirement of choosing an Optional Subject must be done away with.7 This would eliminate the cross-domain shift from professional and technical courses to humanities subjects. The optional subject paper does not specifically measure the suitability of the candidate for an administrative role. Eliminating it would reduce the cost of preparation for the aspirant and make the process more relevant and less time-consuming.

Lastly, it is needless to emphasize the need and significance of technology in the present governance architecture. The UPSC CSE should require from the aspirants a certain level of proficiency in digital skills. This can act as a signal for the aspirants who would then consider obtaining competence in these skills, thus increasing their job readiness. 

Such a scheme of examination would minimise the dead-weight loss to the economy, and still attract and retain the best talent for service to the nation. As the eligibility criteria would still remain graduation, the exam system would successfully bring in candidates from diverse backgrounds into the services. The shorter and relatively flexible examination cycle would help aspirants to seek alternative opportunities in education or job, without wasting much time, effort and money. 

The above mentioned steps would also help break the draconian grip of the coaching industry that has mushroomed throughout the country for the existing pattern of the CSE. Most of these commercial coaching institutes create a larger than life image of the IAS and sell this dream to the aspirational youth. They tend to misguide the candidate, keeping him/her in the phase of preparation perpetually, till the candidate exhausts either the money, age limit or the total available attempts for taking this examination. 

These measures would keep the competitive spirit of the UPSC CSE intact, but would reduce the loss — to the candidate, to the economy, to the society and to the nation. The structure of the examination would be flexible enough to allow talent to flow in and the non-performers to be weeded out easily. By reducing the uncertainty and the overall cost of the examination to the candidate, the new system will ensure that the officers selected would be more eager to learn and adapt, once they get into the service. The public services, in effect, would become more agile and outcome-oriented. The officers chosen would be better suited to deal with the complex challenges of 21st century India. The whole process would be dynamic and discourage preparation in silos, thus, better utilising the human capital for value creation in the Indian economy and society. It is high time that the colonial constructs of the UPSC CSE —the Steel Cage; and the Indian Administrative Service—the Steel Frame, are restructured to be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the youth and the nation. 

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the ISPP Policy Review or the Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.


  1. Jha.S. (2019 Nov.16). “Govt scraps NSO’s consumer expenditure survey over ‘data quality’.” Business Standard. Retrieved from
  2. Jha.S (2019 Feb.6). “Unemployment rate at four-decade high of 6.1% in 2017-18: NSSO survey.”Business Standard. Retrieved from
  3. Union Public Service Commission. (2011-2019). The Annual Reports 62nd to 69th.
  4. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission 10th Report. (Nov. 2008). Refurbishing of Personnel Administration- Scaling New Heights.
  5. Nigavekar.A. et al. (2012 August 30). Committee on Civil Services Examination Reforms. Retrieved from
  6. NITI Aayog. (November 2018). Strategy for New India @ 75.
  7. Baswan. B.S. et al. (9 Aug. 2016). To take a comprehensive look at the requirement of IAS Officers over a longer time-frame.

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Curious and Silly
Curious and Silly
1 year ago

Its very very insightful giving the triad analysis of the problem. You have mentioned many of the major problems that i faced during this examination cycle. Kudos !!!

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago


Kalpesh Patkar
Kalpesh Patkar
1 year ago

Sir, I salute to your courage to highlight the bitter truth which is often spoken in the sense of belittle. UPSC reforms cannot wait more. I personally can’t agree more on your views .
Also, your efforts are reflected in the article. The list of references itself shows depth of the study.
Let’s hope these reforms will appear in reality soon.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Kalpesh Patkar

Completely agree 👍🏻

Kalpesh Patkar
Kalpesh Patkar
1 year ago

In addition, ‘de-glorification of civil services’ is also a topic which needs appropriate attention. It seems like we are still living in a colonial age.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Kalpesh Patkar

Rightly said!!

saarth marwaha
saarth marwaha
1 year ago
Reply to  Kalpesh Patkar

yes , i think legal reforms by the present government has curtailed the powers of the bureaucracy and partially caused deglorification of service

Ravindra Lokare
Ravindra Lokare
1 year ago

Very well written!👍

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago


Shrinivas Patil
Shrinivas Patil
1 year ago

Sir I think the allocation of Posts to selected candidates should be given after considering marks in mains and interview and in the period of foundational training so that we can realise the true essence of training.Government should form a policy to tap the human resource who have appeared upto the stage 3 of the examination like managerial posts in various ministries or PSUs or collaborating with Private sector and recommending them about these aspirants.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago

Including marks of Foundation Course may backfire…

Varun Kulkarni
Varun Kulkarni
1 year ago

No words. Nothing left to speak as an aspirant since Kaustabh sir has literally spoken our minds! Sincerely hoping that this is implemented…

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Varun Kulkarni

I too hope for the same 🙂

1 year ago

The article completely resonates with me.After having spend 3.5 years in the cycle and unsuccessful,I realised that I have worked hard,gained lot of knowledge but little market relevant skills.Hence I decided to switch over to MBA this year and also doing courses on data science.The larger than life image of the IAS officer created in the minds of the civil services aspirants must cease to exist.Otherwise aspirants will continue to burn the most precious years of their lives preparing for this mundane and theoretical exam.Aspirants should also realise that theres a whole world beyond IAS and that also has cut throat competition and demands a lot of hard work.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Nandan

Completely agree. You shouldn’t use the word ‘unsuccessful’, as the examination itself has little reliability and validity. So, I think aspirants shouldn’t judge themselves based upon their performance in a vague and ill designed examination system.

Techi Rana
Techi Rana
1 year ago

👍👌 Kaustubh Sir, Very insightful & aptly highlighted the burgeoning issues of CSE aspirants. It was as if I myself as an aspirant had finally spoken the uncanny voices trapped for years.

UPSC CSE indeed needs
urgent restructuring with immediate effect. We remain optimistic that this article reaches DoPT and UPSC and the reformation is effected.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Techi Rana

Surely, hope for the same👍🏻

Bapu somwanshi
Bapu somwanshi
1 year ago

Nicely written article.Discussed all aspect of Civil service examination issues from holistic manner.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Bapu somwanshi

Thanks brother 👍🏻

Tailang yaje
Tailang yaje
1 year ago

Very insightful and overwhelming article sir.. I really hope the that concern authorities sees it.. and do the restructuring as suggested in the article accordingly (hoping for the best).. everything righty pointed out.. especially loss of human capital.. and of confidence with passing time …also lateral entry in the service would be so unfair where millions are competing for it. Thank you for writing it.

Dr. Kaustubh
Dr. Kaustubh
1 year ago
Reply to  Tailang yaje

Thanks a lot:)

1 year ago

A very informative and comprehensive account on the “Mirage of UPSC”

drkaustubh bondre
drkaustubh bondre
1 year ago

Thanks 🙂

saarth marwaha
saarth marwaha
1 year ago

i accept each and every suggestion given above please forward this to ministry so that action is taken

drkaustubh bondre
drkaustubh bondre
1 year ago
Reply to  saarth marwaha

thanks… hope the reforms come soon!

Tejas mandge
Tejas mandge
1 year ago

This is really an eye opener for every candidate who just merely dreams of becoming the highest government official…I hope every parent of this country henceforth understand this bitter fact…very very worthy article..

drkaustubh bondre
drkaustubh bondre
1 year ago
Reply to  Tejas mandge

thanks a lot tejas

1 year ago

Sir you are right.When I open linkedin I just see people who have converted great colleges,people getting promotions,people becoming entrepreneurs and what not! Although theres no dearth of talent in the upsc aspirant pool,a lot of it is locked in this unending quest for a mirage like position of an IAS.And opportunities,age and energies are getting wasted away!

Sonam Lavtepatil
Sonam Lavtepatil
1 year ago

Sir, this is one of the best essay I have read regarding this topic. This piece is well written with in-depth analysis of the problem and recommendations. Thank you for good read.

Sonam Lavtepatil
Sonam Lavtepatil
1 year ago

One more suggestion was in discussion about considering mains qualified candidates but rejected during personality test will be given opportunity in government jobs. But again this will not solve the root problem

drkaustubh bondre
drkaustubh bondre
1 year ago

thanks sonam

Dhanashri Salokhe
Dhanashri Salokhe
1 year ago

Can’t agree more!
Very insightful article sir

drkaustubh bondre
drkaustubh bondre
1 year ago

thanks a lot..

11 months ago

Very much true sir. Suggestions too are really good and practical. Hopefully commission will realise this soon.

Ex-Upsc aspirant
Ex-Upsc aspirant
10 months ago

Sir, first of all Thank you for writing this article.
Secondly, I completely agree all the dimensions you have mentioned, as I myself was in preparation mode for almost 4 years.

Now as I have decided to leave the preparation for civil services, I am looking for opportunities in other fields from 3 months and it’s been really tuf time.

And the mental stress , which I can’t put in words.

Sir if you can come out with a article, where in you can recommend steps about how to use the 99.72 % rejected cadidates would be of great help . Also alternative career options for them.

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Agriculture is the mainstay sector of India’s economy and uses 60% to 90% of the available water, depending on climate and economic development of the area2. With increasing pressure on agricultural land and water resources it is estimated that to satisfy food demand in 2050, the world’s agricultural production must increase by 70% and water usage should increase by 50% in developing countries and 16% in developed countries2. Yet in the current scenario about 53% of the net sown area in India remains unirrigated3 and the situation is deteriorating due to over-exploitation of water and climate change effects. With the current trends, India is bound to enter a phase of crisis characterised with food insecurity and climate change effects with no panacea. 

In this light, solar water pumps have emerged as a reliable, cost effective technology to increase energy access for sustainable agriculture. They have become a better alternative to electric and diesel pumps owing to rising diesel prices and vulnerable situations of electricity in India. The benefits of SWPs are globally acknowledged and their economic viability and feasibility have made them a top choice on the large ranches of the Western US, Mexico, Australia and Canada4. SWPs can particularly prove to be a boon in the interiors of the country with no electricity access and excessive dependence on rain water. The benefits of SWPs in comparison to commonly adopted electric/diesel pumps is elucidated in table 1.

Table 1: Comparison between solar water pumps and electric/diesel pumps

ParameterSolar water pumpsElectric/diesel pumps
CostLow operating and maintenance costsHigh and recurrent variable costs due to fuel and maintenance cost. 
High fixed costs. Requires water storage tank as well as batteryLower fixed costs
ReliabilityReliable source as can be accessed in remote areas of the country with no access to electricity or diesel. Unreliable source due to lack of electricity supply and rising diesel costs
Region specific intermittency issues during windy and cloudy weather Intermittency issues due to unreliable electricity supply
Environment friendlyEco-friendly and sustainable alternative to electric and diesel pumpsUse of fuel causes pollution and leads to environmental degradation
Disposal can cause pollution; overexploitation of groundwater is also possible with SWPs Disposal can cause pollution; overexploitation of groundwater is possible.
RevenuesEconomically beneficial to farmers as it helps in increasing productivity. Farmers can also earn extra money by selling excess energy to the grid. Cannot generate additional sources of income for the farmers.
InstallationEasy installationDifficult installation

Realising the comparative advantage of solar water pumps over other common methods of irrigation in India, the Central government has given a strong focus to solar pumps by launching schemes under the Ministry of New Renewable Energy. In 2014, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) set a solar energy target of 100 GW by installing a total of 10 lakh solar pumps by 2022. Moreover, in 2019, Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) scheme was launched with three key components i) installation of 10,000 MW of solar power capacity on barren land with capacity up to 2 MW; ii) installation of 1.75 million stand-alone off-grid solar pumps; and iii) “solarization” of 1 million existing grid-connected irrigation pumps5.

In response to Central government schemes, at the state level, in 2016, Government of Haryana initiated a policy of providing 75% subsidy on solar water pumps (SWPs) with the dual objective of sustainable irrigation and climate change mitigation. Within the scheme, Haryana has set an ambitious target of installing 50,000 SWPs by 2022. According to the Scientific Engineer at the Department of New and Renewable Energy, out of the given target only 10,550 pumps have been installed in the state since 2016. In addition, against the target of 15,000 pumps in 2020-2021, only 7,500 pumps were installed in the year 2020. This low adoption of the technology raises serious concerns regarding the deployment of SWPs. Number of farmers who applied for the scheme continue to remain low in the state while for the farmers who did apply for the scheme receive the benefits after one year at the end of the agriculture season. Hence, it is important to study and raise questions regarding states’ approach as well farmers’ view on the technology.

With this objective, this paper undertakes the case study of Rewari district in Haryana to critically analyse the on-ground deployment of SWPs at the state and district level. This paper defines sustainable deployment as achieving social, economic and environmental welfare for the present and the future generations. The study chose Rewari district as it is an agrarian economy with 30.4% of its workforce working as cultivators6 and represents a typical district in the state with dominance of rural population and agriculture. To understand sustainable deployment of SWPs a survey of 269 farmers in Rewari district was conducted along with interviews of various state and district level officials. The findings of the survey have been evaluated through 4 key determinants 1. Supply side factors 2. Economic viability for farmers 3. Social acceptability of farmers 4. Environmental sustainability.  

Based on the research, the paper is divided into 4 sections. The first section of the paper provides information on the policy of SWPs in Haryana. The second section of the paper discusses the agriculture situation in Rewari based on the survey of 269 farmers. The third section of the paper analyses the survey, interviews and field visits to discuss the scope and implementation of SWPs based on the aforementioned key determinants. The final section makes suggestions and policy recommendations.

Haryana growing interest in SWPs 

Interactions with the officers from the Department of New and Renewable Energy department revealed that in 2015, with just 522 MW of installed renewable power capacity, Haryana was lagging behind its neighbours such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Hence, with the endeavour to achieve climate change goals and double farmers income by 2022, Haryana government decided to provide 75% subsidy to off-grid solar water pumping system in 2016. The first phase of the scheme was implemented in 2016-17 in the safe blocks of Shalawas in Jhajjar where 2HP and 5HP solar pumps were available to the farmers. In 2017-18, phase 2 was launched in 23 safe blocks of Ambala, Bhiwani, Hisar, Jind. Jhajjar, Mewat, Sonipat and Rohtak. Since 2018, the scheme has been implemented pan-Haryana across all districts and blocks. In 2018-19, farmers could avail 3HP and 5 HP pumps while the  capacity of the available pumps was increased to 3 HP to 10 HP in 2019-2020. The tentative costs of various types of SWPs is indicated in table 2. 

Table 2: Tentative cost, tentative quantity and user share of the SWPs in Haryana 

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
(Source: HAREDA)

The cost of the solar pumps includes 1. Accessories 2. Delivery to the farmer’s field and installation 3. Guarantee for maintenance and repair up to 5 years. The Department of New and Renewable Energy is the nodal department to implement this scheme across the state. At the district level, the Renewables Department under the chairmanship of the Additional Deputy Commissioner is the nodal agency for the scheme. Interaction with the project officer of Renewables Department in Rewari revealed that the application system is entirely online wherein a farmer who wants to avail the scheme submits the application via with the following documents 1. Aadhar card 2. Jamabandi  of the agriculture land 3. Details of Micro irrigation system installed 4. Details on farm pond. Once the application is submitted, it is scrutinized online by the District Project Officer of the Renewables Department who makes sure that the farmer meets 2 eligibility criteria for the subsidy 1. There is no existing grid supply and 2. Applicants should belong to the Water User Association, Gaushala, Community/cluster based irrigation system or should be a small/marginal farmer. In order to minimize the water usage for irrigation purposes, preference is given to the farmers using micro irrigation systems or who opt for micro irrigation systems. The size of pump is selected on the basis of the water table in the area, land covered and quantity of water required for irrigation. 

Upon approval, applications are sanctioned online by the office of Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) and all the sanctioned applications are reflected on the state portal. The installation of the SWPs is centralized in the state as 6 firms are empanelled at the state level through a tender process which was called by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Transparency is maintained as each movement in the application is informed to the citizen through SMS. Accountability is also ensured as citizen feedback is taken on the application process through IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) calls and citizens can lodge complaints through a state helpline number. 

Since the scheme is still in its initial phase, the government has set district wise targets for installation of SWPs. Following the state level targets in 2020, the eligible applications (1457 till April 2020)  have exceeded the district’s target of 1275 and the final allocation will be decided by an open lottery by the ADC’s office. However, none of these 1457 applications were processed in Rewari in 2020 and no review has been done since 2018 on the use and quality of SWPs. This creates a need to step back and break down the policy to ensure a better and sustainable deployment of solar pumps in the district. The following section elaborates on the methodology used in the research paper. Based on this, this paper will analyse two aspects on SWPs 1. State level factors affecting the deployment of SWPs 2. District level factors affecting the deployment of SWPs.  


Three research approaches have been used for the research paper 1. Semi structured interviews with state and district level stakeholders responsible for deployment of SWPs 2. Survey of 269 farmers across 5 blocks in Rewari district 3. Literature review. The research methodology has been chosen to achieve 3 objectives 1. To understand district level factors affecting the deployment of SWPs 2. To understand state level factors affecting the deployment of SWPs 3. To make recommendations to improve deployment of SWPs.


A survey of 269 farmers was conducted in the Rewari district to understand farmers’ perspectives on SWPs. With dominance of the agriculture sector plagued by issues like lack of electricity, low water table, low farmers income and low penetration of sustainable technologies, Rewari is analogous to any other district in the state and its findings can be useful in understanding larger farmers perspective on sustainable deployment of the technology. To conduct the survey, a Google form based questionnaire was designed and support from 6 Saksham Yuvas was taken.1 Saksham Yuvas went across the 5 blocks of Rewari to survey the farmers over a span of 1 month. They were trained to use Google forms and Excel for the survey. The questionnaire discussed the following themes 1. Household demographics 2. Income and spending 3. Land profile, mechanization level and cropping pattern 4. Awareness about agriculture and climate change 5.Challenges faced in agriculture and irrigation 6. Access to finance. To ensure any gaps in the data are filled, telephonic calls were made by Saksham Yuvas to the farmers to complete the data. The final cleaning of the data and its analysis was done using MS Excel. 

There was a deliberate attempt to ensure that farmers from various income brackets, age, spending patterns, cropping patterns and irrigation type are surveyed to make the findings holistic. Hence, all Saksham Yuvas were provided a list of selected farmers based on the data provided by the District Renewables Department. Sample size involved two broad categories of farmers 1. 211 farmers dependent on electric pumps, diesel pumps or rainfed irrigation 2. 58 farmers using SWPs.

Table 3: Demographics profile of the sample Demographic characteristics of the respondentsDistribution in sample
1.Age Below 25%- 13%; 26 to 40- 29%; 41to 65: 59%; above 65- 10%
2.Size of land holdingLess than 1 acre- 10%; 1to 5 acres-65%; 5 to10 acres-19%; above 10 acres: 6%
3.Block wise dist.Bawal- 9%; Jatusana-13%;Khol-18%; Nahar-39%; Rewari-22%
4.Income/yearLess than 50k-41%; 51k to1.5L-36%; 1.6L to 2.5L-16%; more than 2.5L-7% (average: Rs. 88,000)

Stakeholder Interviews 

Three semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand the government perspective on sustainable deployment of SWPs: 1. Project officer of Rewari’s Renewables Department 2. Sub-Divisional Officer of district Agriculture department 3. Scientific Engineer of the Department of New and Renewable Energy, Haryana.  The objective of the interviews were: First, to understand the policy, process of applying and processing applications on SWPs in Haryana. Second, to understand the agriculture and irrigation scenario in Rewari. Third, to analyse the perceptions of the stakeholders regarding the current deployment of SWPs and factors affecting their deployment. Fourth, to explore the solutions for sustainable irrigation in Rewari. All the interviews focused on asking qualitative questions along with analysing the quantitative back-end data from an online portal to avail the pumps scheme called ‘Antyodaya Saral’.  

Literature review

Given the multidisciplinary focus of the research, literature review was conducted to define and identify factors affecting the economic viability, environmental sustainability and social acceptability of SWPs. Literature review was also conducted to understand the national and state level policies on SWPs to substantiate the findings from surveys and interviews. The relevant literature was critically analysed to assess key parameters for sustainable deployment of the technology. However, since there is lack of literature indicating farmers perspectives on SWPs in India, this paper depends on the survey and interviews to a larger extent compared to literature review for analysis and recommendations. 


The research suffers the following limitations:

  1. Answers on farmers’ income and expenditure may be influenced by biases. This has also been re-iterated by the agriculture department during semi-structured interviews.
  2. The survey and analysis is restricted to Rewari district. While the analysis can be applicable to the entire state and even the country, every region is different in terms of its agriculture and irrigation situation which needs to be taken into account while using the findings from this research. 

Agriculture in Rewari district

A survey of 269 farmers across all the 5 development blocks of Rewari district (Khol, Bawal, Rewari, Jatusana and Nahar) was conducted to understand their perspective on the agriculture situation. While Rewari is an agriculture dominant district only 1457 applications have been submitted on Antyodaya Saral and none of the applications were processed in 2020. This limited uptake of solar pumps by farmers raises important questions about the views of farmers regarding the technology. While there is literature which looks at the perspective of policy makers and market stakeholders, there is a glaring gap on the need to understand the views of the end users themselves. Thus, the objective of this paper is to break the top-down approach to understand farmers perspective, their irrigation needs, their prevailing expenditure on irrigation, choice of pumping technology and their challenges in agriculture. Following are some of the key insights from the survey which are relevant for the research:

  1. Cropping pattern: Food crops (Wheat and Maize), cash crops (cotton) and horticulture crops (fruits and vegetables) are the most common crops in the district with food and cash crops being the most popular. In addition, multiple cropping is prevalent in the district. Crops grown in the district are less water intensive which are largely governed by low water tables leading to lack of water availability. 

Figure 1: Crops produced in Rewari district


  1. Level of farm mechanisation: Rewari has a high level of farm mechanisation wherein 89% of the farmers in Rewari use some level of farm machines like tractors, harvesters and threshers. Tractors are the most widely adopted mechanisation technology as 87% of respondents use it.

              Figure 2: level of farm mechanisation in Rewari district 

  1. Irrigation: A close analysis indicates that farmers have access to some form of irrigation with only 2% of the farmers depending on rainfall. Most popular irrigation technologies are 1. Electric pumps (63%) 2. Solar with electric pumps (14%). In terms of SWPs, 80% of the farmers use 5HP alternate submersible pumps. This pump is popular in the district because, until 2018, pumps of 5HP capacity were provided by the government. Since 2019, higher capacity pumps are also being provided and data analysis indicates that in 2019, 60% of the applicants applied for 7.5 HP or 10HP pumps through the Saral portal. These irrigation technologies are commonly used with sprinkler and drip irrigation.

To further understand if irrigation is a big issue for the farmers in Rewari, farmers were asked about the key barriers to agriculture production where insufficient irrigation, land degradation due to industrialization and smog emerged as top three impediments to agriculture productivity. More than 81% of the farmers reported insufficient irrigation and limited water availability as a significant barrier to agriculture production specially in Khol, Rewari and Jatusana block.  

Figure 3: Irrigations technologies used by farmers in Rewari district

  1. Farmers income: Rewari district mainly comprises small and marginal farmers who have an average income of Rs.88,000/annum. Also, an average farmer’s agricultural holding in Rewari is between 1-5 acres. This limits farmers’ capacity to afford expensive technology or agricultural inputs. 

In continuation with the aforementioned, the next section of the paper dwells on unfolding various other aspects from the survey to categorize and identify parameters affecting sustainable deployment of SWPs. To understand this, this paper discusses two crucial aspects 1. Supply side factors for deployment of SWPs in Haryana – State perspective. 2. District level analysis for deployment of SWPs based on economic viability, social acceptability and environmental sustainability.  

Sustainable deployment of SWPs

  1. Deployment of SWPs: state level analysis

Only 182 pumps have been deployed in Rewari since 2016 and indicate larger concerns on the supply of Solar pumps in the state of Haryana. Unavailability of SWPs themselves hampers the scope of discussing their sustainable deployment. In addition, efforts for demand side push without adequate supply is leading to market failure. The government needs to reflect on the supply side push before pursuing aggressive IEC (information, education and communication)  to increase the demand. 

Interaction with engineers at the Department of New and Renewable Energy reveals that 6 firms have been empanelled to install SWPs in the state. To promote ‘Make in India’ campaign firms producing SWPs using indigenous components are given the tender. However, the average time for installing SWPs in the state is 1 year as there is a lack of monitoring, review and feedback mechanism to ensure timely and efficient implementation of the policy. Moreover, policy on SWPs requires coordination between different levels of government. An application for a solar water pump is scrutinized at 3 levels before approval. At the district level the application is processed by the Project Officer and Additional Deputy Commissioner’s office while at the state level the application is approved by the Department of New and Renewable Energy. With limited communication channels between state and the district several applications remain unattended with no follow-ups or review. 

Breaking away from the current top-down approach, this paper argues for a bottom-up approach where the communication of district government with the state authorities should be streamlined so that district authorities understand farmers’ perspectives and can provide feedback to the state government based on their review of the policy at the ground level. Farmers will have more faith in the government’s intent and ability to deliver when the government will listen to the beneficiaries and lend them with greater support. Taking the bottom up approach forward the next section provides farmers’ perspective on three determinants of the SWPs policy 1. Economic viability 2. Social awareness and acceptability and 3. Environment suitability. The last section of the paper provides recommendations based on the analysis. 

  1. Deployment of SWPs: District level analysis

2.1 Economic viability: Water pumping is an energy-intensive process and its economic viability reflects the feasibility and prospective trends of buying the technology. Broadly, three parameters define the economic viability of any pump 1. Revenue or income generation 2. Cost (fixed and variable) 3. Comparison to alternative irrigation solutions7. Cost of employing a diesel or electric pump includes the cost of buying the pumps (approx. Rs. 22,000) along with monthly expenses of fuel or electricity usage and maintenance costs (approx. Rs. 2200/month) . With lack of fuel availability the cost of diesel and electricity are likely to increase sharply (despite subsidies on electricity) further increasing the variable costs of using these pumps. In this light, SWPs can be an attractive complementary energy source, especially in areas with adequate sunlight and inadequate access to electricity or diesel. While the capital costs of SWPs are high (approx. Rs. 1,00,000 for 10 HP pump) compared to other pumps, a moderate pumps replacement cost is over 15 years depending on their utilization, post which farmers can use solar water pumps with negligible operation and maintenance cost. In addition, with proper access to market and efficient micro-irrigation technologies to prevent water exploitation, SWPs propagate sustainable irrigation practices with increased productivity and revenues for the farmers.

ParameterGrid electricity powered pumpsSolar water pumps
Capital costsRs. 22,000 Rs. 100000 (10 HP alternate submersible pump)
Operation and maintenance costs2200/monthNo maintenance cost (as per survey conducted)
Life cycle20 years25 years

Table 4:  Cost-analysis between electric pumps and SWPs 

Survey conducted in Rewari district has received mixed responses with respect to the economic viability of SWPs. In Rewari, factors like adequate solar radiance and high availability of banks in the district ensures increased affordability of solar water pumps to the farmers. In terms of income change, 67% farmers in Rewari district have indicated a positive impact on their income after adopting SWPs. Hence, low costs and higher incomes has improved the economic viability of SWPs in the district. On the other hand, a low water table in the district means that only a 7-10 HP solar pump is suitable for the district leading to higher upfront costs. A 7-10 HP SWP should also be coupled with water conversation techniques to prevent any further over-exploitation of water. Moreover, majority of the farmers in Rewari possess an agricultural land of below 5 acres, which further affects their purchasing power and affordability to own SWPs. Hence, innovative financial solutions would be required in the district to facilitate the adoption of SWPs by interested farmers.

Table 5: Factors affecting economic viability of SWPs.

Factors affecting the economic viability of SWPsRelation with SWPsFindings from Rewari district
Favourable factors
Types of crops grownCrops which have less peak daily water needs require a smaller capacity pump leading to lower capital costs7.Wheat, mustard and horticulture crops are popularly grown in Rewari and have low irrigation water requirements. Hence, daily water needs of the farmers are low. 
Efficient irrigation techniquesLow variable cost of SWPs can lead to over-exploitation of water leading to a further decrease in water table. Hence, SWPs are best suited for areas which employ various micro-irrigation techniques. Sprinkler and drip irrigation is used by 98% of the surveyed farmers improving the water use efficiency in the district. 
Quality of the system and maintenance costsFrequent breakdowns, lack of technically trained personnel and availability of spare parts can decrease the feasibility of employing SWPs by increasing the variable cost. Also, breakdown of the system during peak growth season can affect farmers yields7 .Farmers have demonstrated satisfaction on the quality of SWPs as 98% of the farmers have not paid for the maintenance since the purchase of SWPs.  
Cost of alternative solutionsSeveral studies have shown that on a life cycle basis, solar-based irrigation is more economical than irrigation using diesel or electric pumps This is particularly true for remote areas with limited access to fossil fuels or electricity infrastructure7 .A farmer spends approximately 22k on electric pumps with additional monthly variable cost of Rs. 2200. On the other hand, a farmer spends Rs. 83,250 for a 5HP SWP with no additional variable cost. Hence with better accessibility of loan and credit facilities, SWPs can be more economically viable in comparison to electric pumps in the long run. 
Loan and credit facilitiesDue to high upfront costs of solar water pumps despite subsidy, it is crucial that accessibility of pumps is supplemented by loan and credit facilities to improve its affordability for small and marginal farmers. According to the survey, 98% of the solar pumps are owned by wealthy farmers who did not take any loans for SWPs.  In addition, 60% of the  farmers were unaware of the loan and credit facilities in the district. This stands contrary to the information from Rewari’s Lead District Manager who indicated that there is at least 1 bank branch in every 2 villages who have been mandated to raise monthly awareness of loan facilities.
Unfavourable factors
Groundwater availabilityAreas with low water tables require higher capacity solar water pumps which makes its possession difficult for farmers especially, those with financial constraints. Also, pumping in areas with low water tables should be carefully considered as it can lead to a further decrease in the water depth and overexploitation of the aquifer if the recharge is not sufficient. Water table in Rewari is distributed unevenly in the district. Blocks of Bawal and Nahar have sufficient groundwater while Rewari, Khol and Jatusana blocks face water shortages. On an average, the water table in Rewari is at 100 feet which requires  a higher capacity pump (between 7-10HP)for irrigation. This is further exacerbated by lack of surface water sources in the district. 
Scale of farmingScale of farming determines the capacity of the solar pump required, the revenues from cultivation, purchasing power of the farmers ability to access credit facilities and his ability to adopt solar water pumps7.Survey indicated that 66.5% small and marginal farmers cultivate in agricultural land between 1-5 acres while only 21% of the farmers possess land above 10 acres. Hence, farmers in Rewari require additional financial support to afford the high upfront costs of SWPs. 
Access to marketEffectiveness of irrigation and consequent increase in agricultural productivity will increase farmers income only when farmers have access to quality inputs and access to markets to trade their crops with market information about crop prices.According to the survey, the market for wheat and mustard is more accessible in Rewari. However, there is a lack of market for higher revenue yielding horticulture crops which affects farmers motivation to grow them. 

2.2 Social awareness and acceptability: Social awareness and acceptability of SWPs depends on the perceived cost, risks and benefits of using the technology by its beneficiaries. This means that the acceptability of SWPs is governed by the degree to which a farmer reckons that it would enhance his/her productivity, will be easy to use and will support him/her in catering to the current impediments in the agricultural system (lack of electricity supply, low water table, rising diesel prices etc.). Survey conducted in Rewari revealed that while SWPs scheme has great potential in providing water for small-scale irrigation and reducing environmental costs, low income levels and lack of expertise and education amongst farmers hampers the social awareness and acceptability of the technology. 

In Rewari, 95% of the farmers were aware about SWPs scheme through 3 primary sources 1. Newspapers 2. Word of mouth 3. Local agricultural institutions. However, farmers have limited awareness about the technology as while 95% of the farmers have heard about SWPs, only 10% were aware about the benefits and risks associated with it. Also, awareness of the scheme did not translate into its acceptability due to its high upfront costs. Survey indicated that only 2% were willing to adopt SWPs after they were informed about the high capital costs of SWPs. Also, 78% of the respondents were unaware of the loan and credit facilities to avail the scheme and 30% of the farmers asked for more subsidies indicating a lack of affordability of farmers in the district. 

Farmers who own the technology mentioned two prime reasons for their switch 1. Lack of electricity supply 2. To save money. Based on these reasons 80% of the solar pump owners were satisfied with the technology and were willing to propagate it. Also, 98% of the farmers mentioned that the technology was easy to use and they have not paid for the maintenance of SWPs since its purchase. Hence, SWPs received positive feedback regarding its ease of use and low variable cost. However, farmers have mentioned some drawbacks of the technology, most popular of which is that current SWP owners are not able to irrigate their entire land due to unsuitable weather in the district and low water table. Survey indicates that 63 % of the SWPs users continue to use electric pumps along with SWPs which does not provide economic benefit to them. This is also affected by the fact that 94% of the farmers bought SWPs through self-funding indicating lack of knowledge regarding availing Kisan Credit Card or other banking services. In this case, awareness campaigns, technology demonstration and training exercises will help farmers make informed decisions and clear any information asymmetry. Since, 60% of the farmers heard about SWPs through agriculture institutions like Kisan Vigyan Kendra and newspapers such sources can be used to increase awareness. 

Figure 4: Challenges in using SWPs

2.3. Environmental sustainability: Environmental sustainability is largely defined as meeting the resources and needs of the current and future generation without compromising on the environmental health. This paper considers two parameters regarding environmental sustainability of SWPs 1. Water use efficiency 2. Lower carbon emissions. While low marginal cost of SWPs incentivises farmers to increase agricultural productivity it can also lead to overexploitation of water if the resources are not utilized judiciously. In Rewari, since 90% of the farmers use sprinkler and drip irrigation, employment of SWPs with these efficient water management mechanisms will prevent overexploitation.

In addition, 63 % of SWPs users in Rewari district are using solar pumps with electric pumps which creates private and external costs leading to no remarkable change in water use efficiency or abatement of carbon emissions. Moreover, it further leads to an additional variable cost of operationalization to the farmers. On the other hand, if only SWPs are used in cultivation, it would lead to a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emission and will also ensure increased revenues for the farmers. However, while promoting deeper penetration of SWPs in the market, policymakers should also cautiously understand the challenges which SWPs can pose at the end of their life cycle.  End-of-life management in SWPs is particularly important for components such as solar panels, controllers, and inverters, which are classified as e-waste, and their improper disposal could adversely pollute the environment. 

Recommendations – the way forward

The study has yielded various important insights that would serve the key stakeholders, policymakers, enterprises, and financiers who are working towards the large-scale adoption and financing of solar pumps. Based on the findings, the following key recommendations are made with the objective of 1. Promoting environment sustainability 2. Improving the accessibility, affordability and feasibility of employing SWPs and 3. Increasing private benefits to the farmers from SWPs. 

Table 6: Recommendation for sustainable deployment of SWPs

Measures/approachesEnvironmental sustainabilityEconomic viabilitySocial acceptability and awareness
Improved awareness and availability of loan and credit facilities Awareness on loan and Kisan Credit Card will provide access to finance and improve the purchasing capacity of the farmers. 
Providing financial incentives like higher subsidies to the farmers with water harvesting/storage systems and micro-irrigation systemsIt will improve water use efficiency of SWPs and will prevent groundwater exploitationHigher subsidies will make SWPs more affordable. Reducing the cost of the SWPs will encourage more farmers to adopt the technology.
Supplementing SWPs policy with horticulture schemesIt will improve water use efficiencyGrowing high value crops with adequate market access will increase agriculture productivity and farmers income. Increased income will improve social acceptability and awareness.
Insurance for SWPsIt will provide security to farmers especially in theftReduce the risks of acquiring SWPs for the farmers.
Training of farmers and technology demonstration to increase awarenessIt will lead to proper disposal of e-waste generated from SWPs at the end of their life cycle. Training of farmers on proper use and maintenance will improve life cycle and reduce repair and maintenance costs.Technology demonstration and peer learning through training sessions will improve social acceptability as 80% of the current users are satisfied with SWPs. 
Prioritizing areas with higher water tableSince SWPs is a new technology, a pilot should take place in the regions with higher water tables with the objective of increasing income of the targeted farmers. Success stories within the district will improve social acceptability
Defining a timeline on Antyodaya Saral for online applications (2 months)Better response rate will encourage more farmers to apply online.
Promotion of co-operative cultureFarmers purchasing capacity will improve if marginal farmers buy SWPs with help of self-help groups
District level helplineAdvise farmers about the best SWPs system to buy will lead to economic viability in using SWPsSuccess stories in SWPs will improve social acceptability
Strengthening of the reviews at the state levelReviews will ensure timely and quality delivery of SWPs and after sale services.


Ensuring access to irrigation in a reliable and affordable manner continues to be a policy imperative in Haryana. For this purpose, the Haryana government initiated a policy to provide 75% subsidy on SWPs in 2016. This paper seeks to understand the implementation of the SWPs policy in Rewari district of Haryana on 4 parameters 1. State level supply factors 2. Economic viability 3. Social acceptability and 4. Environment sustainability. The research is based on extensive interviews of the district and state level stakeholders of the renewable energy department, survey of 269 farmers and field visits.  Based on the primary research, this paper argues for a more comprehensive approach towards promotion and design for a sustainable solar based irrigation.

The analysis indicates that while the policy has been implemented and farmers availing the service have demonstrated satisfaction, the implementation has several pitfalls which affect its sustainable deployment. This paper seeks to understand the situation of agriculture in Rewari, factors affecting the sustainable deployment of SWPs and then make recommendations for a more sustainable solar based irrigation. This paper is focused on Rewari but provides insights applicable to the state and country as well. It will help policy makers, SWPs users, and other different stakeholders on availing and deploying SWPs effectively.  

The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the ISPP Policy Review or the Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.


  1. Department of New and Renewable Energy. List of applications received on solar pumping systems.
  2. Wu, W., & Ma, B. (2015). Integrated nutrient management (INM) for sustaining crop productivity and reducing environmental impact: a review. The Science of the total environment512-513, 415–427.
  3. Jain, A., & Shahidi, T. (2018). Adopting Solar for Irrigation: Farmers’ Perspectives from Uttar Pradesh. January, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, New Delhi, http://www. ceew. in/sites/default/files/CEEW-Adopting-Solar-for-Irrigation-Farmers-Perspectivesfrom-UP-Report-17Jan18. pdf.
  4. Zhou, D. (2017). The acceptance of solar water pump technology among rural farmers of northern Pakistan: A structural equation model. Cogent Food & Agriculture3(1), 1280882.
  5. Beaton, C., Jain, P., Govindan, M., Garg, V., Murali, R., Roy, D., … & Pallaske, G. (2019). Mapping Policy for Solar Irrigation Across the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus in India. International Institute for Sustainable Development.
  6. Census of India 2011. District Census Handbook, Rewari.
  7. Agrawal, S., & Jain, A. (2019). Sustainable deployment of solar irrigation pumps: Key determinants and strategies. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment8(2), e325.


Conditional Cash Transfer programmes have been lauded as one of the most successful social protection schemes of recent times. However, the lack of a gender perspective has resulted in its proposed conditionalities to cause time-poverty amongst its participating women. Time poverty is understood as the lack of discretionary time available and is often observed to disproportionately affect women due to the prevalent gender norms and unaccounted nature of care work. The conditionalities of the CCTs have been furthering the prevalence of this poverty by increasing the burden of responsibilities on women. The study explores the notion of time as a necessary resource and as a means of wellbeing. Following this, it scrutinises the CCT policies of Juntos in Peru and Kyrgyz- Swiss- Swedish Health Project in the Kyrgyz Republic. It uncovers the causal relation between CCT conditionalities and gendered time poverty and further delves into the properties of ‘control’ and ‘quality’ of time. Conclusively, it proposes the need to include an analysis of time poverty and the properties important to the same for gender-inclusive CCT programmes.


Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) are programmes that work on the condition that participating households make pre-specified investments in certain areas of human capital. Conditions range from vaccinations, periodic checkups, prenatal care for mothers and attendance in other health initiatives.1,2 They often have educational conditions as well that encompass school enrollment and attendance.3

These programmes have been lauded as one of the most significant and successful policies of recent times, especially in the context of Latin America that has around 18 Conditional Cash transfers policies currently operating in the region.4 The continuous aid towards these programmes is a result of its accounted success in reducing consumption poverty, increasing nutritional benefits and improving healthcare indicators.5 

Most CCT programmes transfer the money to the mother of the household or the children in some cases and hence, portray women as the beneficiaries of the programme.6 This has led to narratives and conclusions that view gender empowerment as a consequence of CCTs. Moreover, the literature also claims that 80% of the programme benefits are claimed by the poorest families thereby pulling these families out of income poverty. Hence, seeming pro-poor and valuable to the vulnerable sections of society.

However, it is vital to identify that the conditionalities of these programmes build on the caretaking responsibilities that women often assume as part of their roles as mothers, wives and daughters. As a result, these programmes reinforce the existing gender division of labour within the household.7 Most evaluations of CCTs that deem it a success fail to evaluate the burden of responsibilities imposed on the participating women through the presented conditions. Hence, the lack of a gendered perspective in CCT policies has often led to what is recognised as time poverty in the case of the women engaged in these programmes.

Research Aim

This study aims to understand the causation of time poverty through operating CCT policies. It further ventures into the nature of this poverty through an analysis of its operation in Peru and Kyrgyzstan. Through this, the study presents the important variables which must be considered to make CCTs more gender-sensitive and inclusive.


The study will primarily use the principles of exploratory research to investigate the established research aim. Here, the primary purpose of the research is not to prove a particular hypothesis, but to add to the current literature on CCTs and the nature of gendered time poverty it causes. 

To undertake this task, the researcher utilises the case study method and attempts to uncover the operationalisation of CCT programmes- Juntos in Peru and the Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project in the Kyrgyz Republic. This allows the researcher to account for policy behaviour and implication patterns. 

Conclusively, the study and comparison of CCT policy assumptions, implementation and impact on participating women present a set of conclusive variables that prove to be of paramount importance for the implementation of gender-sensitive CCT programmes.

Literature Review

Time Poverty: Understanding Time As a Resource and as Wellbeing

References of time poverty in literature are categorised as time as a resource and as leisure and human wellbeing. Both of these conceptions are interlinked and build on time as an important aspect of an individual’s life. It allows us to look at deprivation from outside of the present ideas that focus only on evaluating the market and remunerated activities.8

Time as Resource – This relates to the understanding of time as an important resource of consumption itself as this resource could be converted into remuneration and services by work.9 Sen’s capabilities approach also builds on this perspective of time as a resource, deprivation from which can impact the individual’s health, lead to loss of human capital and consequently lead to poverty.10

Time as Wellbeing – Since being engaged in any one activity directly correlates to the loss of engagement in other activities (which could include the tasks for basic functionality and health); how we choose to allocate time is then directly understood to impact wellbeing.11

Bardasi and Wodon as well as the Gender Equality Observatory have proposed that the time invested in remunerated or non-remunerated work reduces the time for leisure or rest.12,13

It is important to understand what is meant by the idea of wellbeing. According to McGregor wellbeing is “an interplay between the resources that a person is able to command; what they are able to achieve with those resources; and the meanings that frame these and that drive their aspirations and strategies”.14 This suggests that when an individual is viewed as poor in regards to time, they are unable to command their resource of ‘time’ for their benefits and/or for their aspirations and strategies to benefit their quality of time.  

Time Poverty and Gender

The focus on time as an aspect of poverty and its unequal allocation comes from the need to account for the invisible work undertaken by women which is often undervalued.15 There exists a dearth of time-based evaluations, however, the limited studies conducted show that in a general overview of about 45 developing nations, women predominantly (75% of the households) bear the responsibility of collecting water and other domestic tasks.16 Upon analysing who does what and when it was observed that in African households women and girls were considered responsible for the domestic chores which included looking after children as well as the general health of the household.

The issue however is not limited to developing or rural regions and extends itself in all contexts that are governed by the traditional gender roles. Conceptualisations of time poverty can be traced back to a study by Clair Vickery, who conducted household time surveys in the US to show that it was not just the variable of income but also the variable of time that plays an important role for a certain level of consumption to occur.17 Time-use surveys conducted within the UK have also shown similar trends in accounting for consistent time poverty amongst women.18 Hence, the issue of time poverty is embedded in the gender roles that assign time-consuming but non-market tasks of food management, domestic cleaning and health as the domain of the women. These widespread inequalities within the units of household have led to concepts of ‘Reproductive Tax’ and ‘Household Overhead’ which are terms used to recognise the additional labour that women engaging in paid work have to perform by also engaging in the domestic unpaid work as part of performing their gender roles.19,20

Time Poverty and Conditional Cash Transfers 

Time is understood as an ultimate resource permeating every individual life and experience. Hence, its unequal allocation on the basis of gender is an important gap that needs to be addressed by functioning social policies in different regions. However, gender inequalities in regards to time are often reinforced by CCT interventions as they operate on increasing demands on women’s unpaid labour inputs.21,22,23

However, it is important to understand not only the gendered nature of time poverty but also the related conditions of ‘who controls the time of women?’ and the ‘quality of time’ they spend on the activities of these CCTs. Through the analysis of the programmes and its impact in the cases of Peru as well as the Kyrgyz Republic, these conditions and the issue of time poverty will be explored through the lens of gender in the following parts of the essay.


Gendered Conditionalities and Time-Poverty: Juntos in Peru

The ‘Junto’ Programme of Peru draws its inspiration from cash transfer programmes of Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Honduras and was launched in the region in 2005. It targeted children under the age of 14 and aimed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by setting conditions of accessing public education and health services for the children, much like other conditional programmes.24,25 The transfer was to be given to the mothers of the household on the assumption that they are more likely to be accountable for their children’s well-being. Drawing from Mexico’s cash transfer programmes, it was also viewed as providing women with more decision making power.26 In return, women had signed an agreement with the State for four years, agreeing to the suspension of three-months payment as a penalty for the non-compliance of the conditions.

Right-away, assumptions in the policy implementations are made not only in regards to the gender roles of women but also in regards to what constitutes their empowerment. As discussed, CCTs are often given an empowerment view due to their action of transferring money to the woman member of the household. This action does show a change in expenditure behaviour of the household, as evaluations show that women often spend more on consumptions that benefit the household collectively.27 However, this does not translate into ‘empowering’ the woman herself. Due to the lack of a gender lens and hyper-focus on economic transfers, the policy assumes the fulfilment of the socially-dictated gender roles (of providing better healthcare and education for her children) as empowering; giving women empowerment a utilitarian lens.

Tara Cookson conducted an ethnographic study in the Andean mountains of rural Peru to record the impact of Juntos on the women of the community. During the course of the 11-month study, she accompanied the women for the Juntos activities along with their daily responsibilities of care work and ploughing of land. The qualitative data collected allowed her to criticise the programme for its inabilities to record the gendered implications of programmes. She found that cash was helpful and there were more children now going to school, however accounting for women’s care work for the same allowed her to confront the realities of the programme. She reported that they often had to travel long distances for meetings, health clinics were often closed and schools were massively understaffed. It sheds light on the rushed operationalisation of these programmes even in the midst of inadequate administration and infrastructure. The implications of all these shortcomings were borne by the women who had to spend extra time travelling or waiting. These struggles remained unaccounted for as time poverty is not an assessed variable in these programmes.

This has also bought into question other research that suggests that pulling parents from income poverty at the cost of deepening women’s existing time poverty is unlikely to improve children’s well-being in the long term.18 Moreover the progress that is assessed only on the basis of schools enrolments and quantitative data failed to note how women were forced to perform the conditionalities, making the project unsustainable in the long term.

It is also important to recall the link between time and wellbeing, which is affected by this gendered policy. For example, even though the Juntos programmes aim at adolescents below the age of 14 to access education, only 39% of girls in rural areas complete secondary school in comparison to 51.3% of boys due to factors such as domestic responsibilities, the insecurity of travel, teenage pregnancy and early marriage.28 None of these factors are addressed through the interventions of CCTs. Moreover, it increases the work in the domestic sphere and with the growing pressure of household chores, young girls are more susceptible to engaging in these roles. Hence, ultimately becoming counterintuitive to its own goals.

Considering gender implications within this development policy would bring in time analysis and accounting of care work which then would urge policymakers to ask questions like- How can the policy promote sharing of domestic responsibilities amongst men and women? How much time does travel take? How can it be minimised? What can be done to make the conditionality more accessible for both genders? All of which are important questions to make CCTs more sustainable and equitable.3 

‘Control Over Time’ and ‘Quality of Time’: The Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project

The correlation between time poverty, gender and wellbeing when looking at CCTs is more intricate than the reinforcement of gender roles causing time poverty. Research conducted in this field has also suggested that in some cases women enjoyed increased self-esteem and status as a result of CCTs which can also be viewed as wellbeing. Evaluations of certain ‘Bolsa Familia’, ‘Familias en Accion’ and ‘Chile Solidario’ programmes expressed that women felt empowered due to an increase in their bargaining power in household decisions and did not mind the consequent time poverty.

This can be analysed in the case of The Kyrgyz-Swiss-Swedish Health Project (KSSHP) which has been operating since the 2000s and is a CCT programme prioritising the promotion of health systems in rural regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. The case of KSSHP is interesting, as even though the CCTs cause gendered time poverty (just like in the case of Peru, Bolivia and other Latin American countries); the data collected shows that this time poverty was not considered as a disadvantage.

Women traditionally (much like all other regions observed) have a less public role and are primarily dominant in the domestic domain.29,30 In fact many men during surveys justified their non-participation in KSSHP activities by suggesting that they do not have as much time as the women in the community. 

However, due to the operating Village Health Committees (VHC) established through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises, the CCT policy saw grassroots mobilisation where women were given the opportunity to be part of the health committees (85% of VHC members are women) and determine the central health objectives of the community.31 Hence, though there were complaints of having lesser time for other activities, the programme helped in contributing to their wellbeing by promoting women to publicly participate. This encouraged women to determine their own goals.

The concepts of ‘control over time’ and ‘quality of time’ become important here. Control over time can be understood as providing women with the power over the utilisation of their own time, the use of which is otherwise dictated by the demands of their families and male counterparts. The Kyrgyz model, by providing women with the power to control the conditionalities of the programme, gave them the power over what they will be devoting their time to. This was lacking in the Peruvian model which had an imposed systems of conditions and penalisation that often forced the women participants to use the services (such as that of the daycare) that they either did not require or have trust in. Quality of time is an aspect of time evaluation that is often considered more important than analysing the quantity of time. It is determined by having autonomy over time allocation that aligns with certain aspired goals of the individual.32 Autonomy and aligning of desired goals with the time spent increases the utility of the time spent on the activity, hence increasing what is considered the perceived quality of time. In the case of KSSHP activities, the women not only had autonomy over time allocation but also received desired outcomes of public participation. The motivation for these activities despite the quantitative time poverty was the derived increase in societal decision making.

Evaluations have not attempted to disentangle which components are more important for the women that are part of the programme. This has created a huge hole in the effectiveness of CCTs that otherwise as shown through analysis of its implementation in different regions, have much room to improve and grow. 

The Trade-offs: The Cost of Empowerment Within Social Policies

The concept of trade-offs has been consistent throughout the presented literature of time poverty and its gendered impact on women. In the initial Peruvian case, there was a trade-off between time and women’s wellbeing for tackling income poverty. Whereas in the KSSHP case, foregoing women’s leisure time for increased agency and participation was seen as an acceptable trade-off. 

Bardasi and Wodon question whether the wilful and consensual action of exchanging time for empowerment or remuneration can still be considered as poverty? They argue that it is. They justify this by arguing that the existence of time poverty does not necessarily conclude worse conditions in other aspects of wellbeing. However, it is still the lack and loss of a resource that is an important dimension.

The trade-off between time as a resource is viewed as sacrificing some needs so as to be able to achieve other needs. The benefits of empowerment are never achieved by women in the case of CCT’s without the presence of a ‘sacrifice’ or ‘trade-off’. The trade-off may be time for receiving income (in the case of Juntos in Peru) or time for receiving empowerment (in the case of KHSSP). However, for policies to truly and efficiently encompass gender in development, efforts should be made to minimise these trade-offs. Wherein the CCT’s should empower them not as a consequence of sacrificing a resource but as a streamlined aim of the policy itself.

This can be achieved through addressing the gender dynamics questioning the existing gender norms through the work of interventions. The CCT’s should revise their language and induce discussions within households over the responsibilities of children’s health and education and designs should encourage the inclusion of men in programme activities. Apart from this, the methods of evaluations need to be more gender-sensitive to include time poverty and must include room to record the programme’s impact on autonomy and empowerment of women.


The analysis is based on the researchers’ inferences of acquired secondary data. The lack of a primary study may lead to some unaddressed gaps and misperceptions of the same. Moreover, there exists a massive dearth of time surveys and evaluations which would have allowed for more precise quantitative arguments. However, the researcher has aimed to bridge this gap by using in-depth ethnographies of women’s experience of the programmes, bringing to fore the need for more time surveys and analysis for efficient evaluations of CCTs.


The policies of Conditional Cash Transfers are extensively used in several parts of the world to provide social protection to the vulnerable and poor sections of society. However, these CCTs fail to look at the impact of these conditionalities on the women and girl children participating in these programmes. 

The conditionalities of the CCTs often deepen the dimension of time poverty amongst the participating women by enabling stereotypes that associate the role of caregiving, domestic chores and responsibilities of children’s health and education with women. By not acknowledging this inherent inequality and unaccounted care work, policymakers engage women in ‘voluntary work’ for their children in exchange for remuneration that goes towards the household. Women who participate in these programmes hence partake in unpaid care work, depriving them of scarce leisure time which has been linked to general human wellbeing.32

As witnessed in the Peruvian case, the evaluations of the Juntos programme, which aims to increase education access, do not take into account deprivation of time. Moreover, the increasing pressures of domestic chores have been observed as one of the reasons many girls choose to drop out of schools making the programme implementation counterintuitive. It highlights the importance of gender considerations and time evaluations which would allow policymakers to make the CCT programme truly equitable and sustainable. 

However, only taking considerations of time poverty by accounting for care work will not be sufficient, as was observed in the case of KSSHP. To truly deal with the issues of time poverty, the programmes need to consider dimensions of ‘control’ and ‘quality’ that allows women to control increases the allocation and utility of their time. The case shows that CCT approaches need to be based on women’s daily experiences and their own perceptions of time and well-being. This will allow policies to encompass their priorities on how they desire to invest their own time.

Without incorporating the lens of gender, CCTs fail to acknowledge that social policies impact different groups differently leading to inequitable development. Gender analysis allows policymakers to look at a holistic picture of wellbeing that extends beyond income. The literature on how to minimise the trade-offs women often make for their own development suggests various small technological impetuses dealing with transport and mobility that makes a difference in the time women can have for themselves, along with interventions that ensure equal participation from both genders and push for structural change in the established gender roles.33


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The views expressed in the post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the ISPP Policy Review or the Indian School of Public Policy. Images via open source.