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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 42

Indo-US Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy

Tuesday 9 October 2007, by Surendra Mohan

Two years ago, this journal had cautioned our compatriots against falling into the American trap by getting allured of the dream of becoming a great power under her patronage. That was when Pranab Mukherjee, the then Defence Minister, had visited the USA on an exploratory visit, as he described it. However, he returned after affixing his signature to a ten-year long Strategic Defence Agreement. The UPA Government’s record during the past two years has been that the Prime Minister is the first person holding that august office to have not visited any West Asian country, barring Karzai’s Afghanistan, total silence for a whole year on the American bombings and her troops’ excesses in Iraq, not a single word of sympathy for Palestine, refusal to safeguard Iran’s interests in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against the US threats, and being the first country to have welcomed the US Missile Defence Treaty. Moreover, the Prime Minister is the only statesman who has contributed 10 million dollars to the ‘Democracy Fund’ launched by President Bush of the USA who paid an equal amount into the Fund.

India had achieved considerable technical know-how, with only a little assistance from other countries, in nuclear technology, missile and space technology and manufacture of armaments necessary for our defence. India had refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) despite tremendous pressure from the Western bloc. But, Dr Manmohan Singh, as the Finance Minister in 1995, had said that we have primarily to depend on external assistance. He pursues it vigorously.

THE present 123 Agreement is in fact the fourth one to have been signed by the Government of India (run by the UPA coalition) with the USA including the Strategic Defence Treaty, Knowledge Treaty and Science and Technology Treaty. The ball for these Treaties was set rolling, however, by the previous NDA Government which had signed the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) Treaty with the USA. The same government had also amended the Electricity Authority Act to make our energy security dependent on foreigners. Thus, the previous and the present governments have been equally keen on the partnership between the two countries, one a superpower, militarily, economically and as the major veto-wielding power, and the other which is quite weak in all these departments. In fact, there is no kind of parity between them. As it is, the present Agreement creates sufficient scope for the USA to blackmail India.

The Hyde Act provides that the US President will submit annually a certification report to the US Congress on a variety of foreign issues including whether India’s policy is “congruent to that of the US”; India will be required to participate in and formally declare support to the US Proliferation Security Initiative which will authorise the US to interdict vessels in international waters; and India will have to conform to various agreements like US Missile Technology and Control Regime Initiative. The USA will have the authority to terminate the Agreement at will if the US President or Congress is not satisfied with any one of the above conditions without consulting India. The annulment of the Agreement will necessitate that India returns all that she has received from the USA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The loss in economic terms is estimated to be over a hundred thousand crore rupees. India might then have to go abegging to the World Bank or just meekly accept the US blandishments.

George W. Bush has assured Dr Manmohan Singh that his “signing statement” is of an advisory nature. However, this is no legal guarantee in respect of the future. Our government has taken the position that the Hyde Act is not binding on India as it is an internal law of the USA. Since it will bind the other partner with whom the Agreement is being entered into, it will be equally binding on India. The adoption of this Act by the US Congress after all the nuts and bolts of the Agreement had been negotiated should have been considered by the Government of India as a fundamental change in the Agreement and India should have decided to withdraw from it. Now when the Opposition, particularly the Left, wants that our Parliament should make a law which circumvents the Hyde Act, the government is hardly forthcoming.

The issue of energy security is vital for all sovereign nations of the world. Yet, we have put ours in the hands of the USA as we shall have to import nuclear fuel from it or the Nuclear Suppliers Group and we are entering into an agreement which can be terminated by the other party at its non-satisfaction. The USA is so much concerned with the issue of energy that in 1953, its CIA not only toppled Iran’s Prime Minister Mosaddeq but physically liquidated him. Its invasion of Iraq is also to get hold of Iraq’s energy sources, that is, oil. Iran is being threatened in order to create a pretence to attack her because of her ample oil. Attempts were made twice by the USA to topple Venezuela’s President Chavez for the same reason. Noam Chomsky, the celebrated writer, has pointed out that after freeing Japan, the USA assisted her to industrialise, but ensured that her energy supply remained subject to the USA’s veto.

NOT that India did not know all these developments, but the Indian elite, which is barely three per cent of her vast population, has thrown India’s lot with the USA in the fond belief of attaining a great power status under its patronage. The votaries of this pitiable belief control the media and are using it to stigmatise all the opponents of the Agreement as unpatriotic. They have forgotten that when India’s nuclear technology was founded, its author, Dr Homi Bhaba, and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had stipulated it as a self- reliant essay, based mainly on Thorium which is abundant in our country. As for Uranium, its price has gone up from $ 20 per pound on May 1, 2007 to $ 130 by the end of July in the same year. This price spiral might go up further. No other kind of energy becomes five-to-six times more costly in a matter of three months. Nor do they realise that our coal is still sufficient to help produce more and more energy. It has been estimated that India has the potential to produce 21,000 MW of electricity by utilising our hydraulic and thermal resources. Moreover, were the government to give priority to research in coal as also the BHEL which has built turbines to suit coal, the production of energy from it will be much higher.

Several countries are turning to non- conventional sources of energy supply. India has sunlight in abundance. The use of solar energy can be helpful in helping to fulfil our energy’s ever- growing requirements. Wind energy, energy from sea-water with a vast coastline and bio-gas energy should be mobilised fully to achieve that objective. In all these, cost-effectiveness is also much better than nuclear energy. Moreover, this is decentralised energy and can be produced in bustees and in huts. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, is accident-prone and has a terrible history of its own, what with Chernobyl in Russia and the Long Island in the USA. Then, there is a serious problem about nuclear waste whose effect even when buried remains for 50,000 years. These are weighty considerations.

The author is a distinguished Socialist ideologue.

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