Sunday, February 26, 2012

INDIAN QUEST FOR ENERGY SECURITY: A CORRECT PERSPECTIVE


EAS Sarma
EAS  SARMA
As appeared in
tHE SUNDAY TRIBUNE, CHANDIGARH
fEBRUARY 26,2012

ON THE RECORD BY
SURESH DHARUR




The ‘foreign hand’ guides govt more than the people

ACTIVISTS are up in arms against the government for pursuing the nuclear energy option, “disregarding public concerns”. The former Union Energy Secretary and a leading environmentalist EAS Sarma rubbishes talk of “foreign hand” behind the public protests. The retired IAS official spoke at length on different aspects of energy security.
The Prime Minister has blamed NGOs for engineering protests against Kudankulam nuclear plant. What is your response?
The Prime Minister’s statement was ill-advised, devoid of a realistic appreciation of the ground realities and lacked appreciation of genuine public concern over the potential dangers of nuclear technology, as reflected by the catastrophic explosions in the reactors at Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima 2011. It amounts to belittling the voice of dissent in a democracy like ours.
The “foreign hand” argument applies more to the government than to the people. Is it not the foreign hand that forced the UPA government to push through the Indo-US nuclear deal to serve the commercial interests of another country rather than promoting self-reliance? Has not the country been pushed into a permanent state of dependence on imported nuclear reactors and imported fuel for no compelling reason?
Has the government followed any competitive bidding procedure for deciding the reactor suppliers for Jaitapur, Kovvada and the other nuclear power complexes? Has this not imposed an undue cost burden on the electricity consumers of the country? Is it not the foreign hand that compelled the government to pass the civil nuclear liability law to shift the burden of accident liability from the foreign reactorsuppliers to the tax payers in India ?
What safety issues do you think the government needs to addres?
The PMO had assured that safety audits and action taken on existing plants will be placed in the public domain. More than nine months have lapsed and yet DAE/ NPCIL have remained secretive. DAE should take people into confidence. It should order risk analysis studies, assuming human and mechanical failures, as well as seismic events. In the Deccan plateau, which was considered stable, we had the Koyna disaster and the Latur earthquake, in which thousands lost their lives and homes. Our knowledge of the impact of low-intensity radioactive exposure is also incomplete.
Can we afford to abandon the nuclear route to meet our power needs?
It is a fallacious argument put forward by energy illiterates. A 10 per cent saving in Transmission and Distribution losses in India through additional investment on T&D network will save 1,56,000 MW of capacity, which is more than 2.5 times of the 60,030MW of nuclear capacity projected up to 2030-31 in the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) report of the Planning Commission. If a 20 per cent efficiency improvement is realised in our lighting devices, which is within the domain of possibility, we can similarly do away with most of the nuclear capacity addition planned.
What alternative scenarios do you propose?
Germany, where 26 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear sources, has decided to do away with it in a decade and shift to solar and other renewable sources. In India, hardly 2.5 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear. We have much more of solar insolation and sources of renewable energy.
What ails our energy policy?
Our energy policy should be based on demand management, efficiency improvements and renewables as the first priorities. When I talk of demand management, I talk of changes in urban planning, transport planning, building architecture and so on. For example, a tonne-km of freight traffic requires seven times of oil products by road compared to rail. We therefore ought to think of “golden quadrilaterals” of rail rather than highways. Similarly, one passenger-km of passenger traffic in a city based on cars and two-wheelers consumes twice the oil consumed by buses.









Saturday, February 25, 2012

NUCLEAR ENERGY in INDIA: IS IT A WISE OPTION

Indian nation is standing on the crossroads to find an answer to the Energy Security of the country which is effective, long lasting, safe with no chance of a catastrophic accident, environment friendly and totally dependent upon Indian Natural Resources. The answer to energy security definitely lies in  a combination of the clean energy technologies and that too in the renewable ones. Luckily India is blessed with an abundance of solar, wind and Hydroelectric potential sufficient  to take care of its energy needs even when per capita energy consumption is raised to the level of advanced western nations. In a country with such a favourable scenario for renewable energy sources, basing our energy security on nuclear energy reeks of nothing else but  hidden agenda of vested interests. The question "NUCLEAR ENERGY in INDIA: IS IT A WISE OPTION" cannot stand the scrutiny of even the elementary wisdom. The rulers of the country should rise above their petty politics, narrow vision and act as statesmen with a vision beyond thirty years when most of the fuel resources of this world, be it coal, oil or Uranium will all dry up to a level beyond commercial exploitation and all humanity on this globe will be forced to look towards eternal renewable energy sources only.

Few questions that need to be probed
  1. The cost of nuclear energy including capital cost, fuel cost, running cost, arrangements for stopping theft and pilferage of nuclear material, safety against terrorist groups, full arrangements for full compensation in case of a blow out for immediate damage/losses and losses resulting in even after two or three decades, decommissioning cost of a life expired plant and management of nuclear wastes and above all vulnerability to political and economic blackmail by the fuel suppliers.Incidentally no nation has made any provisions for  full arrangements for compensation in case of a blow out, decommissioning cost of a life expired plant and cost of management of nuclear wastes so far as these costs are exorbitant and in the light of this commercial exploitation of nuclear energy is perhaps simply not viable.And that is why no new nuclear plants have come up anywhere in the western world where the society is extremely sensitive to such issues.
  2. Why should we Indians be made to sit on  potentially catastrophic sites when no scientist or technologist can guarantee an absolute safety of a nuclear power plant. They can only vouch for the fact that all safety measures as per current national safety standards have been incorporated. These standards are still in a process of evolution and get revised after each major accident. In fact the whole process is like chasing a mirage of absolute safety. By the time you incorporate one set of safety standards, new facts come to light in the wake of a disaster or calamity or an accident and you start incorporating additional safety devices and making new safety codes.
The government/polity is not entitled to commit such a horrendous stupidity even after making full arrangements for everything brought out in 1. above particularly when other saner and cost effective options are available. Let wisdom prevail on Indian Polity and let India be a nation which has learnt from the mistakes and experiences of others. By taking the timely action of switching over to renewable energy sources India can elevate itself to the status of world leader in the energy security game for all times to come.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NREGA and UID: The Two Main Potential Harbingers of Prosperity in India

NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and UID (Unique Identification Number) coupled with E-governance can be real game changers in India's road to prosperity in the shortest possible time.India presently has 500 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) hungry mouths which are supposed to be a big liability on the nation. But thinking positively the same hungry mouths translate into 200 million adult working heads and that amounts to 1600 million working hours on a daily basis. So is it certainly not a drag as is made out in many government circles, it is in fact a much bigger asset not many countries on this globe can even dream of. The destiny of Indian nation now depends on the wisdom and sincerity of Indian polity and how it decides to perceive this fact, for the first perception is the road to gloom and destruction while the latter is a short cut to prosperity and fulfilling the dream of being a developed prosperous nation.
Indian government has no doubt noble thought process of working towards making the life livable for these masses with a variety of measures like providing proper food, house, safe drinking water, clean and sanitary conditions, rural roads, health care services and education and even work. To fulfil these missions  food subsidy, fuel subsidy, NREGA jobs and a host of other freebies and doles are being provided but in actual practice all these efforts of providing subsidised food and fuel, free midday meals and even a job are almost totally lost at the altar of corruption and corrupt practices. While the government spends its hard earned monetary resources, the designated beneficiaries get a small fraction out of it and that too many times in the form of sub standard adulterated and rotten food stuff. The government through a plethora of schemes  has opened too many avenues for individuals and mafias to reap undue advantage through pilferage, theft, benefit going to undeserving individuals and in many cases to non existent names. All this because of government's sole aim of undertaking these measures only for votes and without  real concern to the plight of India's poor citizens. Its lack of sincerity and inability to check corruption and management costs of these schemes only point out to some vicious hidden agenda.
This figure of 500 million BPL individuals is as it is exaggerated when we see so many non eligible names in   small checks carried out at district level. A fair estimation points to a figure of 400 million individuals needing assistance. A sincere effort in pure national interest would be to empower all BPL family heads financially in lieu of work and work alone to such a level that they can take care of all requirements of their family members viz. food, health care, education etc. Ensure a sum of Rs 1000/- per month to each individual at a total cost of Rs 400000 crores which translates into 3200 crores of work days ( @ 125/ day ) for 20 crore adults i.e. 160 working days per annum ( men and women have both included ). Doing away with subsidies, freebies and doles (and including the expenses involved in the proposed food security bill) completely by centre and states and making payments to individuals having UID only through banks can easily take care of this amount.

The following additional advantage will accrue

  • Government's inefficient and scam ridden public distribution system  will no more be required.
  • No bogus individuals and no unnecessary payments
  • 3200 crores extra man days can do wonders for the country.
  • Government as facilitator and not provider
  • Banking facility to almost every citizen
  • Only two bodies to be kept under checks and controls. One the BPL certification authority and the other  work certification authority.
  • Such a large force comes into the realm of organised sector making providing them Healthcare and Education  a much easier job.
  • All corruption in many aspects of life will be mitigated.
  • And above all such a large section of society will live with self esteem and heads held high. 
To make such an important headway in NREGA and UID, the two main Potential Harbingers of Prosperity in India, government can in some way compensate financial organisations like banks and insurance companies so that all the benefits could reach the doorsteps of the poor millions of the country at the earliest. It must be ensured that no spanners are put in implementation of such magnificent schemes having far reaching effect on the destiny of India by any vested interests.

Monday, February 13, 2012

UID: The only Aadhaar for Good Governance in India

Last few days a lot of hue and cry was raised regarding Unique Identification Number (UID) project, the only viable aadhaar for good governance in India, regarding the matters of its efficacy and dangers to the national security. It is seldom that Indian Government comes up with a thought process which can in reality change the very shape of things to come.Luckily for the country the impasse has been resolved with the intervention by none other than the prime minister. There can be little doubt that an exercise of such a magnitude will not have shortcomings and loopholes but it is the duty of the government to plug those shortcomings and loopholes. The main purpose of both UID and  National Population Register(NPR) is to give a foolproof identity to each and every citizen of India and to ensure that all social programs of the government reach the target group effectively  without any leakage and pilferage at minimal cost to the exchequer in the shortest possible time and to help reduce black money generation and its recovery.
There are two main categories which need to be covered immediately if the government is aiming at giving a semblance of a good governance. Firstly, Below Poverty Line (BPL) families who are all having a voter card, supposedly a very authentic document and secondly financially better off strata of the society who have PAN, Passports, Public Sector Undertakings (PSU) and Autonomous body I cards, government service I cards and a voter card as well. With this kind of huge data bank already available in the country giving a biometric identity to all these groups should easily cover more than 95% of the population in a small time. The rest can be covered by making UID mandatory for property acquisition, vehicle registration, admission to schools and reaping benefits of government schemes.
The country will appreciate and will be grateful to the Indian polity if this exercise is completed on a war footing in about a year or two for the stakes are too high. After all the government's subsidy, social and welfare programs are worth more than Rs3,00,000/- crores annually and a leakage of about 50% as per latest study of the world bank is too large a figure not to merit war scale national mission attention. In fact a much higher figure of about 70% loss was mentioned by an erstwhile congress prime minister of the country.
Similarly keeping a tag on economic activity of the main generators and guzzlers of black money through e-governance and UID linking, a huge sum can be generated in the government kitty. The government by dilly dallying on not taking immediate effective steps in having a UID system in place is missing golden opportunity of propelling the GDP growth levels to mid teens.