In 2010, Manmohan Singh, then the prime minister, launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, or JNNSM, a central-government initiative that envisaged India as a global leader in the solar-energy sector. The mission aimed to create an enabling environment for the penetration of solar technology in the country, and set a target for India’s solar power—by 2022, the government said, India would have 20 gigawatts of installed solar capacity. In 2015, less than a year after he became the prime minister, Narendra Modi raised this goal by five times—to 100 gigawatts by 2022. Modi reiterated his commitment to solar power in 2016, when India ratified the Paris Agreement, an international convention to tackle global warming, under which India promised to cut down carbon emissions by 33–35 percent. The Modi government then initiated the International Solar Alliance, an association of 121 countries that aims to develop solar energy to cut down dependence on fossil fuels. “ISA will play a similar role in the future that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for around 40 percent of global crude oil production, is playing today,” the prime minister said while inaugurating the first ISA assembly in October 2018.
Modi’s grandstanding aside, India’s leading role in international solar-power initiatives, as well as the JNNSM, are facing major setbacks due to recent policy changes. An August 2018 report by the global consultancy firm CRISIL noted that India was likely to miss its 2022 target by over a fifth, due to the impact of these policy changes.
In July 2018, the finance ministry approved a safeguard duty—an import duty levied to protect the domestic industry from losses due to cheap imports—on solar cells and modules, which are the main building blocks of a solar panel. Coupled with the weakening rupee, the new import duty has raised the cost of solar projects by around twenty percent, as per the CRISIL report. The duty was imposed at the behest of a group of five companies, led by Mundra Solar, the solar-power firm owned by the Adani Group. Further, despite repeated requests from the ministry of new and renewable energy, or MNRE, the finance ministry has refused to provide subsidies and incentives to domestic solar-panel producers. Put together, these decisions raise questions about the government’s commitment to becoming a solar superpower.