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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 42

Why We Oppose Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Tuesday 9 October 2007, by Gurudas Das Gupta


The Indian Constitution does not provide for parliamentary approval of an international treaty as of today. In a democratic set-up change of guard is inevitable, but the treaty remains in force binding the nation for decades. If a wrong is done, it cannot be undone for long and the nation has to pay the price, maybe, in perpetuity. That is why a democratic government, unlike an autocratic regime, must seek a broad consensus before committing the nation to a foreign country. It cannot be left to the whims and fancies of an individual or a party howsoever important they may be in the political system. It is all the more true in a coalition alignment particularly when the government is in office on the support of a political combination which is not a part of the government. This is where the government has primarily defaulted. The Left was never consulted in the finality of the agreement on the supply of nuclear reactors and fuel from America.

Not only that a childish campaign has been launched that the atomic treaty will take India to the door of heavens, what is most surprising in that alongside a malicious propaganda has been unleashed inspired by the government machinery at the highest level accusing the critics of the deal of obstructing economic growth and empowerment of the poor as if generation of 10,000 MW of additional power from the nuclear fuel can change the face of the country. Once it was claimed that economic reform shall transform the destiny of the nation in no time, now it is being said that the imported nuclear energy shall do a miracle. We had waited for more than a decade to realise the impact of economic reform; 77 per cent of the people are today poor and vulnerable, according to a report submitted by the National Commission on Unorganised Labour. Why has the country to undergo the same ordeal to realise the consequences of American generosity? Hollow political slogans do not take the country forward.

The demand for change of Constitution to make parliamentary ratification obligatory was raised when the Marakkesh Treaty was signed. Even a Private Member’s Bill in this regard had been moved in the Lok Sabha; unfortunately, it did not come up for discussion. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest that the question of parliamentary mandate is being raised only when the atomic energy agreement with the USA is sought to be finalised. The demand for amendment of the Constitution in this regard was persistently raised in the past. The point in question is that that deal has raised a political storm, as never before; the reason is obvious: lack of consensus and transparency.

APART from political implications the deal must appear to be economically justified. Nuclear power generation with imported reactors will be of high cost loaded with a high debt burden. The massive investment that is needed is unlikely to be sustainable, may even starve different sectors of the economy. The government, it is true, has not divulged the cost of the implementation of the deal; it is unofficially estimated that Rs 2 lakh crores is needed for the purchase of the reactor and Rs 8 lakh crores for the downstream industry. It is highly improbable that the economy will be able to bear such a heavy burden of repayment. The question that is important is: what is the volume of additional generation of power the massive investment will provide? If we accept the government’s figure, which does not appear to be realistic at all, additionally 13,000 MW the imported reactors would be able to produce. The domestic production of nuclear power today is 3300 MW less than three per cent of the total generation of power in the country. Several new projects are being set up. It is likely that the domestic reactors shall generate 7000 MW in 2020. Then if, according to the Prime Minister’s claim, 20,000 MW is produced in 2020, not more than 13,000 MW will be from the imported nuclear reactors. A country having a budget of not more than Rs 6.5 lakh crores cannot afford to incur a debt of nearly Rs 10 lakh crores for the manufacture of only 13,000 MW when the total generation in 2020 is likely to be 1.5 lakh MW. The slogan of nuclear renaissance therefore is as futile as the slogan Garibi Hatao. For only seven per cent of the total generation, should we invest so heavily?

According to the calculations of the Planning Commission, the integrated energy policy 2006, nuclear power generation may reach 15,000 MW by 2015. The indigenous production from nuclear fuel may be around 5000 MW and 10,000 MW will be from imported reactors. Therefore the massive investment cannot in any case benefit the country in a significant way.

A scientific overview does not suggest that nuclear energy is the only tool to open the door of economic regeneration. The need for power is definitely a crucial factor for economic advance. What are the options available for additional power? This is the fundamental question. Without doing the necessary study the government is in an unusual hurry to complete the deal. Instead of depending on an unreliable high cost nuclear fuel, it is prudent to depend on coal and hydrocarbon import. Moving the energy cycle to thorium, maybe time-consuming, is another option. Exploring exploitation of hydel power generation is a viable alternative. The tidal wave in the long coast of India, the turbulent wind in some parts of the country in specific seasons, the scorching sun in the deserts may also be considered to be effective sources of generating energy. Nuclear power seems to be most expensive, also hazardous and accident-prone. With much less investment power from other indigenous sources can be harnessed.

The cost of imported nuclear power per unit is estimated to be Rs 5.50 while the cost of a unit from coal is Rs 2.50, from indigenous reactor it is Rs 3.4. Therefore, the incremental benefit of the imported reactors as against the slower indigenous process is really marginal, may even be negative. The country is in urgent need of power but high cost power from imported reactors is not the first option.

THE nuclear deal should not to be seen in isolation. It is the culmination of the process of building up of a strategic partnership between India and the USA. The process began with the signing of a Military Treaty with the Bush Administration. The vote against Iran was another step ahead. The nuclear deal constitutes the finality of a trend that is too dangerous to be ignored.

India had the largest number of naval exercises with the USA in the last five years. The latest naval drill may be considered to be the biggest. The Seventh Fleet that was sought to be deployed against India during Bangladesh War, the aircraft carrier that was instrumental in killing lakhs of Iraqis are in the Indian waters. The naval exercise is significantly in the Bay of Bengal that too near the Malacca Strait, not in the Arabian Sea. This is a display of mighty military power not without a significant design. The defence pact provides for interlocking of armed forces and the building up of a strategic partnership. India has been drawn too close to America militarily. Close military collaboration with the USA has not been proved to be beneficial for any country in the world in the recent period.

The political and economic implications are grave. The deal has equally been struck in exchange of the India-Iran gas pipeline. The project via Pakistan would have provided the boost for further economic cooperation and developing regional cooperation. The Bush Administration has barred India from going ahead. The deal has not only opened the Indian market to the starved atomic reactor industry of America, it has also opened up to the armament industry. India is already under heavy pressure to buy American armaments on a large scale. American private corporates are all in glee; the Indian market is their immediate destination. The anti-Iranian slant is further exposed when Indian corporates are saliently asked not to trade with Iran.

Finally, comes the question of the Hyde Act. It is an India-specific Act. It is not so innocent as not to influence India’s policy. It has been enacted to force India to fall in line in exchange of an atomic power deal.

In section 120-B, the Hyde Act speaks of “congruent foreign policy”. Section 103-4 speaks of India’s support to “sanction and contain Iran”. India’s non-aligned foreign policy is in jeopardy. Annual presidential certification that India is moving on the dotted line is a prerequisite for securing the supply of atomic fuel. The Act enjoins upon the American Administration to ensure the prevention of supply of the fuel and equipment from other nuclear countries if the USA terminates the agreement. The Hyde Act binds the US Administration to make the deal infructuous if India opts out of the strategic alliance. We are ready to be a friend of the US not a global ally of imperialism for carrying out its strategy of world domination. Therefore, the atomic deal is not in the interest of the nation.

Of late the constitutional propriety of the agreement is being openly challenged. A number of legal luminaries of the country have stated categorically that the executive cannot act independent of Parliament on the nuclear deal, without parliamentary support the executive cannot implement the treaty. It is a highhanded undemocratic act if not totally unlawful to bypass Parliament and enact the agreement with the USA.

It is not only a question of coming close to America, tying up with an imperialist power abandoning the policy of non-alignment, it is outrageous to impose an unbearable debt burden on an economy that suffers so heavily from the resource crunch, is unable to put in place even the minimum social security for the poor and vulnerable during the sixty years of our freedom.n
(Courtesy : The Sunday Statesman)

The author is a member of the CPI’s Central Secretariat, the General Secretary of the AITUC and the Leader of the CPI Group in Parliament.

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