September 2, 2007

The ‘left’ looks more ‘right’ this time!

In the recent past, there hasn’t been any other issue like the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal, which has taken so much of mind space, editorial space and political (rhetoric!) space. So what is the ‘big deal’ about the deal, which has literally divided the entire nation between the ‘lefts’ and the ‘rights’, with the scales heavily tilted towards the latter? Well, without getting into the nitty gritty of the deal, the first thing that the deal does is to provide India with a seemingly attractive solution to reduce India’s problem of energy deficit and ensure energy security. Apparently, the deal ensures nuclear cooperation and trade between India and others, without compromising its weapons program. Also, that by signing the deal, India is guaranteed fuel supplies for its civilian nuclear reactors and it also retains the right to reprocess and recycle the spent fuel. On the global front, the deal helps India get recognised as a nuclear state; and geo-politically, the deal is crucial because it gives India a strong feeling of one-upmanship over Pakistan – the nuclear armed neighbour that has not been offered a similar deal.

But then, that is one side of the ‘deal story’, or rather, that is the side of the story that has been told to us by the mainstream media. At the cost of sounding hackneyed, it does seem that most of the mainstream media has become atypical CIA stooges and have inanely taken up the responsibility of brainwashing millions of Indians by bombarding us with one-sided, favourable (read ‘biased!’) information. Unfortunately, most of them have missed out on the big flipside of the deal. In order to analyse the deal more objectively, there is only one question – do we need the deal at all? Now, if the deal is just to solve our energy crisis, then there should not be any urgency in rushing through the deal. Right now, most of India’s power generation is based on coal (around 65%) and India still has abundance of coal reserves, which is yet to be exploited. Moreover, wind energy has been making considerable progress (which, as on 31st March, 2007 was 7,082 MW, twice as much as that of nuclear), and there is still a huge potential, which is still left unused. Further, other forms of alternative fuel remain grossly under-utilised. For example, as per Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy’s figures, which was released in 2002, out of the gross potential of 45,000 MW in wind energy, 3,500 MW in Bio-mass, 15,000 MW in small-hydro, a mere 10% is exploited. I’m sure that things have not changed much even in 2007, but what I fail to understand is that if there is so much of potential yet to be realised, why is there an urgency for the nuclear deal

Well, staunch supporters of the deal would state that nuclear energy is much more economical to produce than any other form of energy (which is also true as the OECD experience shows us that the cost of producing nuclear energy over a period of time is around two-thirds that of thermal energy). But then, currently the Indian per capita income is around Rs.32,000 (as per our honourable Finance Minister) and by the next ten years it should be more than double (provided we succeed to maintain the current growth rates). So ten years down the road, the per capita cost of electricity would be a miniscule percentage of the per capita income. So logically, there is again no mad urgency of signing the deal right now!

To question the veracity of the deal becomes even more pertinent when one considers the nuclear disasters that are taking place around the world. Also, knowing the very fact that the kind of preparedness the First World possesses to mitigate such disasters, god forbid, if it ever occurs in our country, it would be nothing less than a catastrophe, considering the state of our security standards. That apart, the first world is used to dumping its nuclear wastes in Africa, creating another form of environmental disaster that would last for hundreds of years. What are we going to do with such nuclear wastes?

In addition to all this, the fine print of the 123 agreement holds the threat of the US canceling the deal if India ever goes ahead with nuclear testing. I strongly feel that to conduct a nuclear test is always a matter of national prerogative and should never impinge upon the consent of any other entity. Though it is also true that if the deal goes through, then American energy companies like Bechtel, Flour Corp. and Halliburton etc. would have invested so much in India that it would be difficult for the US to call the deal off that easily. But then, why leave it to such chances that would unnecessarily and adversely affect business, security and sovereign national interest?

All in all, one thing is for sure and that is that the deal is not a dying imperative for us, at least not for now. And to that extent, the Left parties have a valid point, and seem more ‘right’ this time, not in terms of destabilizing the government, but in terms of the arguments that they have raised. But still, if the policy makers decide to go ahead with the deal, they can, provided the deal is the last thing in their minds whenever it comes to taking a decision pertaining to national security! Can they guarantee that?

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