The failure of India – Pakistan NSA level talks.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif in Ufa, Russia.

The manner in which India and Pakistan move to orchestrate a thaw in their political standoff has become a template of sorts, as it is far too easy to predict which way the talks on any significant level will go. Talks at the National Security Advisor level were hyped up with hot air after the leaders of the two countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia.

However, the build up to the talks that were slated to take place in Delhi this past Sunday was textbook to what has come to be expected from India and Pakistan, specifically on the two main issues of contention, Kashmir and terrorism. Prior to the Delhi talks, the usual jamboree in TV news channels on both sides of the border started as they dusted off their retired military generals from the mantle and placed them in the studios to recreate what can be best described as a vocal and visual Cirque du Soleil performance, but fit for a zoo. Noise over nuance always prevails in both countries as far as public discourse goes, and both governments play on this to ramp up their own political mileage.

In reality, the talks seemed doomed from the start when this summit was announced at Ufa. The reasons for this are varied, but largely rest on optics that both India and Pakistan have not been able to get past over the decades. While Pakistan’s policy on India is set by its most powerful entity of governance, the Army and its related wings such as its intelligence unit ISI, India’s ‘Pakistan policy’ is incapable of honing itself as doctrinal view towards its neighbour. The status quo between India and Pakistan transcend government changes in both countries; every new government in Delhi inherits the Pakistan question on almost the same levels and grounds as the previous one, and the one before that. The fact is that such a policy, as far as India is concerned, perhaps could not exist at all as a reaction to the way Pakistan conducts its matters regarding India. In an essay published in 1968, former American National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described American foreign policy as “a series of moves that have produced a certain result”, and perhaps this vagueness is actually the best way to go for New Delhi as well as far as Pakistan is concerned. Kissinger in the same paper also noted that “the typical political leader of the contemporary managerial society is a man with a strong will, a high capacity to get himself elected, but no very great conception of what he is going to do when he gets into office”. This pathology report from the 60s may also perfectly describe Modi and Sharif as far as the evolution (or dissolution) of Indo – Pak relations go.

While Pakistan’s India policy comes from Rawalpindi, India at best reacts to events and manoeuvres of Pakistan. Perhaps it is not even possible to have a cohesive and rounded policy on Pakistan for India even as former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, tried a different approach of what his government liked to call engaging with ‘peace constituencies’ in the country. However, Singh’s policy was squashed somewhere in between unrealistic idealism and brutal realism, which saw his government in a significantly weaker position every time the Line of Control flared up.

The other reason why the NSA talks looked to be heading for an inconclusive end was the characteristics of the NSA’s of both countries themselves, Ajit Doval from India and Sartaj Aziz from Pakistan. Both Doval and Aziz are influential, arrogant and powerful while often lacking traits of diplomats. Doval often speaks with grandeur in situations where he should practice diplomatic restrain; Aziz leaves no stone unturned, specifically in the media, to tarnish India with vitriol at times so heavy that he reminds one of Iraq’s former information minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who rose to fame for his absurdities in the media. Even if Doval and Aziz would have met, working on cues from their respective Prime Ministers, it is doubtful an impasse of any worth would have been achieved.
India’s long standing demand for Pakistan to give up the likes of Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed
are justified, and perhaps if Islamabad caves on either one of these demands, some seriousness in bilateral talks can be achieved. However, it is also important to remember that gaining access to Dawood would be an event of gaining needed closure, and not a victory in any counter-terrorism strategy on Pakistan. As the deaths of Osama Bin laden and Mullah Omar have demonstrated the very hierarchical nature of terrorist organisations goes well beyond single entities. Dawood today is not the crown for India’s efforts to highlight state sponsored terrorism emitting from Pakistan, specifically in the international community.

Talks between India and Pakistan should be propped up and promoted, however they need to be seen as part of step-by-step engagement, and every dialogue process should be seen as a singular entity that perhaps could, in the future, be part of a somewhat rounded policy of engagement with Pakistan.


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Why is Russia, India’s closest ally, making overtures to Pakistan?

This article first appeared in

Barely days after the end of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s busy foreign tours, which took him everywhere from Brazil to Fiji, his government is getting ready to host India’s only true strategic partner, Russia. The country’s President Vladimir Putin starts a 48-hour visit to New Delhi from today, six months after the Modi government took charge.

New Delhi and Moscow have shared close bilateral relations since 1947. In the post-Independence days, when India was struggling with a weak economy as well as an indifferent West, it found support in the erstwhile Soviet Union. For this reason and others, India’s position on Moscow superseded its policy of non-alignment during the Cold War.

Decades later, though the relationship remains special, it has hit turbulence lately.

No absolutes

Last month, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a visit to Pakistan – a path-breaking trip by all measures since he was the first Russian defense minister to do so. In New Delhi, reactions to the visit ranged from the tame to the confused. Russia is our main strategic ally, so why is it courting Pakistan and looking to sell it defence equipment?

This rocky patch appears surprising, at least on the surface. Several analysts see Modi and Putin as political siblings who exemplify the new nationalistic wave sweeping their countries. Modi’s mandate exhibits this fervour. Though Putin has got flak for his actions in Ukraine, he still enjoys overwhelming popular support in Russia with his hardline stance against the West.

In recent times, India has stood behind Moscow in its most aggressive policies. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from neighbouring Ukraine in March, New Delhi declared that Moscow had legitimate interests in the region. In May, it sided with Moscow and Beijing on the issue of Syria, resisting military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But commonalities aside, one thing that international diplomacy does not adhere well to is the idea of the absolute. This is true even for the best of relationships.

Fragile economy

Ignored in Delhi’s reactions to Russia’s new interest in Pakistan was the fact that diplomacy is a lonely game. Your friend today is your foe tomorrow and vice-versa.

Russia’s economy is fragile, based almost entirely on oil and gas revenues. It uses these earnings to run the various schemes at home that give Putin his larger-than-life persona. If the Russian economy slips, so does Putin’s way of running Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Moscow has noted that it has legitimate interests in Afghanistan – hence, its outreach to Islamabad.

Deceptive suitors

The changing dynamic between Delhi and Moscow is apparent. Russian Ambassador to India, Alexander M Kadakin, laid out a clear foundation before Putin’s visit to the country. He made no qualms in admitting that India’s defence deals with the US have not gone down well in Moscow.

Kadakin said there was no contract with Pakistan on the sale of Mi-35 attack helicopters as yet, but the “door is open” since India awarded its chopper contract to America. He observed that it would be easier for India and Russia to influence Pakistan together if Moscow had a stronger foothold there.

“India is like a rich fiancée,” Kadakin reportedly said. “A beautiful fiancée will have many suitors. Just be careful no one promises marriage and then deceives.” He later quipped that he was a little “badmash” in his statements.

Regaining momentum

India’s shift away from defence procurement from Russia is rooted in some regrettable experiences. For the price it paid for the second-hand Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier (now INS Vikramaditya), India could have procured a new one. The Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi 30 fleet is plagued by groundings due to engine issues and spare part problems.

Tired of the underperforming Russian equipment, India has been giving preference to companies from other countries such as the US, France and Israel over the last few years. Naturally, this has displeased Russia’s prominent military-industrial complex, whose revenues are even more critical now because of the crashing global oil prices.

Still, despite the changing currents, the India-Russia relationship is not diminishing and is one good bilateral summit away from regaining lost momentum. Both countries are slated to sign 15-20 key pacts this week. Russia has offered India help in every sector ranging from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic to technology, defence and nuclear cooperation.

Moscow cannot afford to orchestrate a diplomatic slowdown under the current global geopolitical and geo-economic circumstances, and neither can New Delhi. Russia needs New Delhi and Beijing to infuse capital into its economy, and Putin will look to achieve this aim in the Indian capital this week.

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SAARC can succeed only if it loses its obsession with India – Pakistan affairs

This article appeared in Quartz.

Expectations from the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit are always high even though some analysts and observers will tell you that this regional forum has repeatedly failed to bring the nations of South Asia closer. The hopes exists largely due to the constant hot and cold nature of ties between India and Pakistan.

But it this very same India-Pakistan dynamic that has let down SAARC the most. From the Musharraf-Vajpayee handshake in 2002 to the over-enthusiasm over whether Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif will meet on the side-lines in Kathmandu this week, the very idea of SAARC has fallen victim to the political clutches of the tensions between these two countries.
This is not a new conundrum for a multilateral forum. In fact, almost all multilateral forums suffer from agenda biases of the politically and economically strong. India’s latest experience of this was its fight over trade protocols at the World Trade Organisation.

Terrorism and security

Both India and Pakistan spend heavy diplomatic capital on each other, the reasons for which are obvious. The theme for the 18th SAARC summit this month is “deeper integration for peace and prosperity”, which would seemingly highlight the issues of terrorism and national security faced by all involved members. A lot of such talk will revolve around India and Pakistan.

Even before the summit started in Nepal, almost all the attention was already focused on what will transpire between the two states which are observing another of their diplomatic cold spells.
Not just this edition, the very origins of SAARC have been steeped in the distrust between New Delhi and Islamabad. During the forum’s formative years in the 1980s, each was concerned about the other bringing the smaller neighbours together against it. This distrust, snowballing over time, has placed a permanent shadow over what was supposed to be a multilateral forum bringing South Asian nations closer.

Forums under stress

Fumbling over the years, SAARC is now overshadowed by the many other global forums such as G20 and BRICS as far as international economics is concerned. But let us not be fooled, SAARC’s missed opportunities are not entirely due to the involved countries and their own bilateral vices.

The success of multilateral forums the world over has increasingly coming under stress, with major outlets such as G20 not delivering what they set out to achieve (unless koala diplomacy counts). India itself has largely felt more comfortable dealing with countries on a bilateral level, and achieved more through this format. But being one of the biggest economies in the world, housing the second biggest population, it cannot turn a blind eye to multilateral platforms and will have to make the best of such institutions in whatever available capacity.
At a recent summit in New Delhi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said that apart from Bhutan, India had some or the other issue with all its neighbouring countries and that the country will have to prepare itself “in view of the neighbourhood settings.”

It is possible that with the lens of India-Pakistan issues extricated, SAARC could be given a reset, keeping in mind the potential trade between its members that currently remains appallingly low. Just to put things in perspective, SAARC members are possibly the most poorly connected group of nations that are part of a neighbourhood multilateral process. People from Sri Lanka cannot fly directly into Kathmandu, and people from Islamabad cannot directly fly into Dhaka. Even basic citizen-to-citizen connections have failed to bloom between the members, which is possibly why former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha has called out SAARC as a “failed experiment.”

New dimension

Sinha admitted that the biggest hurdle for SAARC remains the India-Pakistan relationship. Having the region’s two biggest economies with the biggest populations constantly at odds with each other is fast rendering SAARC an obsolete and hopeless cause.

 Afghanistan joined SAARC as a member state in 2007 amid a lot of internal discussions and speculations. This, according to some analysts, only complicated SAARC’s pencilled-in mandate further. Recent comments from senior Afghanistan officials suggesting that their country was becoming an India-Pakistan battleground and that Afghans were feeling like the “victims” highlights a new sphere of regional geo-political challenge.
There needs to be an active movement within SAARC to disengage from the predominant narrative of India-Pakistan affairs. Even if Modi had met Sharif in Kathmandu, it should have been seen as part of the SAARC’s spirit of holistic engagement rather than any kind of breakthrough in the bilateral freeze between the two countries.



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The Curious Case Of A Maid In Manhattan

This article first appeared in Tehelka magazine on 28th December 2013


New Delhi and Washington have found themselves in the midst of an ugly diplomatic stand-off after an Indian Deputy Consul General in New York, , was arrested, allegedly handcuffed and subjected to a strip search by the New York Police Department (NYPD).  has made its anger known to the United States over the fact that Khobragade’s detention is illegal according to international conventions as she is a diplomat and enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Over the past 48 hours, the tensions between and the  over Khobragade’s detention has escalated. New Delhi unanimously condemned America’s actions in arresting the diplomat, and the Ministry of External Affairs reassigned her as a permanent consul to the United Nations so that she has full and unchallenged diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. It was done so that the  authorities don’t get a chance to distinguish between full diplomatic and consular immunity rights.

To add to its dissent,  also acted to remove privileges for American diplomats in New Delhi, blocked imports of alcohol for the  Embassy and consulates, and removed traffic protection barricades in front of the  Embassy using bulldozers, which made for dramatic visuals for the media in both countries.

While New Delhi is justified in its ire over the treatment reportedly meted to her (even as  maintains strip search and so on were as per rules in the country), the stories being told by the  officials and the Indian government have loopholes that both the governments seem to be having a hard time plugging.

Khobragade’s arrest was prompted by the alleged evasion of  law designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation. The State Attorney’s office in Manhattan, New York — led by  Attorney Preet Bharara, who is also overseeing the case — claims that the domestic help, Sangeeta Richard, along with her husband, was “made to attest false documents and be part of her (Khobragade’s) scheme to lie to  government officials”.

The  authorities say the Indian diplomat had devised two contracts for paying the maid. One contract was in sync with the  labour laws requiring that the maid be paid the minimum wage of $9.75 per hour, while the other was for the actual amount paid, which is calculated to be around $3.50 per hour. This is what the case against Khobragade is, but , however, has maintained that the case is part of a “conspiracy” and has asked the American authorities to drop all charges.

According to the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C., Sangeeta went missing on 23 June. This was then reported to the Office of the Foreign Missions in New York and the NYPD. Further, the Indian Embassy says Sangeeta “blackmailed” Khobragade that she be permitted to change her passport and visa status to work elsewhere, which would be in violation of both  and Indian laws.

Upon receiving a call on 1 July, with this demand allegedly from Sangeeta’s lawyer, Khobragade asked the person on the other side for identification, upon which the person disconnected the call. After this, the diplomat is known to have filed a complaint of harassment to the NYPD, which reportedly ignored it.

During all these developments, Sangeeta’s husband Philip Richard is known to have been aware of his wife’s actions in the . He filed a writ petition on 15 July against Khobragade, but took it back four days later. On 19 November, a district court in New Delhi issued a nonbailable against Sangeeta, which was then forwarded to the  State Department and the  Embassy in New Delhi. But there was no response from either.

A lot of the concern coming out of New Delhi in this case was also due to the fact that initial reports suggested that Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed outside a school. Later, the reports suggested that the diplomat was strip-searched by the police.

In an unexpected and rare press release, Bharara has offered an alternative version of how the arrest took place. Bharara has said that the diplomat was not put in handcuffs in front of the school and was, in fact, accorded courtesies “well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained”.

Bharara’s note also highlights a continuing loophole in this ongoing saga between Washington and New Delhi. Two days before Khobragade’s arrest on 12 December, Sangeeta’s husband, along with their kids, flew to New York onboard an Air flight. Bharara has said: “Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in  vis-à-vis them. This office and the Justice Department are compelled to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.”

Reports about the history of both Philip and Sangeeta Richard include unconfirmed information that prior to working for Khobragade, both were employed by American diplomats. Other sources are also pointing to the fact that lawyers hand-in-glove with some ngos are helping the Richards in the  to fight the case against Khobragade. However, it seems to be confirmed that both  and the  are aware of the fact that Sangeeta’s family flying out of  was an important juncture, but both are not ready to release further information on this account in the public sphere yet.

A former diplomat, who has served in Indian missions across Europe, says he won’t be surprised if this case is actually meant to enable the Richards to look for resettlement in America. Talking on condition of anonymity, he says such cases backed by ngos are not uncommon.

“During my time in Europe, I saw such cases frequently,” he reveals. “Maids travelling with diplomats file charges against them to try and gain resettlement and working rights in the particular country. However, this particular case seems to have a lot of other factors at work as well, so it is difficult to say.”

The next date for hearing Khobragade’s case has been announced for 13 January 2014. If at the end of it all, she is found guilty, she may face jail time of up to 10 years.

This is not the first time that an Indian diplomat has got into trouble relating to treatment of maids travelling abroad with them. Only last year ’s cultural and press counsellor in New York, Neena Malhotra, was told by a  judge that she should pay $1.4 million in damages for bringing an under-age child to work in the  and then not even paying her the minimum wage.


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Aam Aadmi Party’s power populism is bad news for consumers

This article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian on January 4 2014


The new Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government’s move to provide tariff relief on power prices via subsidies in order to fulfil one of its major electoral commitments may come as bad news for consumers. The subsidy, which will use public funding to offer relief on tariffs, may orchestrate a critical power crisis as the government could struggle to foot the bill in the long run. Power distributors have maintained their stand that they provide electricity at a loss and any future financial strains could mean that long power outages may become a common occurrence in the national capital.

The power companies have highlighted the fact that tariffs increased by the state regulator have risen by 70% since 2002, while the cost of buying electricity from power generators and then supplying it has risen by nearly 300% during the same time, making supply under current tariffs uneconomical.

During campaigning, new Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that power discoms were over-charging citizens by a big margin. Kejriwal himself went to cut power lines as a sign of protest to highlight alleged corruption charges against both the Congress government, later whose help he took to form the government, and the private discoms.

Energy experts and economists alike saw Kejriwal’s claim of cutting prices by 50% as unrealistic. Delhi, which is a net-importer of power (along with most other things), depends on power procured from other states to fulfil its needs. Neighbouring states such as Haryana often supply the capital with power even though their domestic demand exceeds supply.

“The point here is that whether AAP’s transparency measures will hit the already lagging production and distribution infrastructure of power,” says an official in the Union Ministry of Power on the condition of anonymity.

“While the audits are fine, AAP needs to realise the gravity of our power problem. The fact that millions are still to be connected to a power grid, that the capital still has to do load shedding and many businesses in places like Gurgaon run on diesel generators due to power cuts lasting hours spells out our deep problems”.

According to the International Energy Agency, more than 288 million people in India are still waiting to be connected. Power production remains a monumental challenge as the country struggles to provide affordable energy supplies while competing in the global markets to secure uninterrupted fuel sources to feed its power plants. All states in India offer electricity at a subsidised rate, and these subsidies that are levied on almost all energy sources, specifically fossil fuels, have led to a bulging fiscal deficit.

Power production, although improving, is still in the negative. Data for the month of September on power generation in 2013 saw a shortage of 3.6%, down significantly from 10%, which was observed in September 2012, yet higher from the month before it. The total peak demand for the period was 134,150 MW, out of which 129,269 MW was met, according to the CEA. Latest figures for November show demand at 127,665 MW, of which 123,929 MW was met, a shrink in the deficit to 2.9% due to late winters.

However, the definition of electrification in India is far from desirable. For example, the government’s definition of electrification describes it as only 10% of households of an area need to be receiving electricity for that entire village or town to be considered “electrified”. According to consulting group Deloitte, household electricity penetration in India is still lagging at a meagre 56% for rural areas.

Currently, India achieves a big chunk of its energy production via thermal power plants. However, due to constant policy failures over the past decade, India, which has huge reserves of coal, is importing the fuel from countries such as South Africa and Indonesia to ensure continuous supply to its plants. The problems don’t just stop at coal; India has many gas powered plants lying idle due to unavailability of natural gas to power them. The state of Gujarat has 5,000 MW capacity power plants lying idle due to non-availability of fuel. This paralysis, while affecting power production is also costing states such as Gujarat thousands of crores per-year in revenue. Like coal, India has abundant sources of natural gas in the Krishna-Godavari basin and off-coast in Bay of Bengal, however, most natural gas today comes from countries such as Qatar.

The AAP is not only applying unviable and populous policies in an already struggling capital intensive sector, but is now also eyeing to join protests against India’s civil nuclear energy plans. AAP leader Prashant Bhushan while visiting Tamil Nadu said that his party supported the protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the state.

While addressing the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, Bhushan said: “We always opposed nuclear energy and also the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project.” Bhushan also pointed out that many Western countries had stalled nuclear power projects as they were “expensive and dangerous”. While many see this as a stunt by the AAP to get a foothold in the state where it plans to contest in the general elections this year the fact remains that, like in Delhi, AAP’s reasoning remains flawed.

According to a study by Urban Emissions, exposure to coal related pollution caused between 80,000 and 150,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma attacks in India in 2011-12 with associated costs of $3.3 to $4.6 billion. India is planning to set up nearly 500 new coal powered plants by 2020 and up to 68-70% of its power production would come from coal, deeming it much more fatal than nuclear power, which has seen only two major disasters since 1959. By comparison, thermal power costs India more in both “expense” and “danger” than nuclear by miles.

AAP needs to look at the nationwide picture on power production, consumption and distribution before endorsing a bigger subsidies raj. A thorough understanding of globalised energy dynamics is the need of the hour for AAP. A hasty decision today would warrant a rollback tomorrow, a move which carries heavy political costs.


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Lessons from Japan for India on Nuclear Energy

This article first appeared in The Diplomat on December 13, 2013


The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has become the focal point of public debate in India over the pursuit of civil nuclear energy on a large scale. The run-up to the plant’s inauguration had been marred by protests from locals and the anti-nuclear lobby, who question the safety of the plant and have taken the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

Kudankulam was originally envisaged in the 1980s. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chose the site despite the fact that it is situated in the environmentally sensitive Gulf of Mannar region. This was just one of the factors driving the mass protests over the years.

According to the IEA, more than 300 million people are known to be living without regular power supply in India. To bridge this massive deficit, nuclear energy is attractive for policymakers. However, the image of nuclear energy as a safe and clean option has taken a big hit in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Pre-Fukushima Japan was considered a model, along with the likes of Germany and France, of how to effectively implement nuclear energy and securing power supplies for a large economy. However, following the disaster and with the plant still not completely secure, Japan has been forced to forego its nuclear energy ambitions due to immense public pressure.

The outcome of Fukushima has also put the spotlight on the aggressive, globally active and well-funded nuclear energy lobby. For many in Tokyo, a disaster caused largely by a tsunami triggered by an earthquake in 2011 opened a can of worms over how the government regulated its nuclear backyard. This issue of regulation has gained momentum as more and more people question the conventional wisdom of nuclear energy being a safe bet.

The Fukushima disaster has yet to prompt a criminal investigation. But the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has come under fire for not adhering to transparent management structures and for not appointing independent directors to offer non-biased perspectives in a crisis.

Efforts to clean up the Fukushima aftermath are still underway with no clear timeline as to when the plant and the surrounding area will be deemed safe. As part of the political aftermath, both the public and even some members of parliament belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo have criticized the government’s handling of civil nuclear policies.

In India, even though plans for nuclear power remain unchanged, the Japanese example has turned further attention to the safety of such projects and has even given the government a boost on its stand over the heavily debated nuclear-liability law. In fact, a senior Planning Commission member recently mentioned how, during a presentation by French nuclear-tech manufacturer Areva SA, the company was asked why the Fukushima disaster happened. Expecting a more intricate explanation, all the Commission members got was that it was caused by “flooding” due to the tsunami. This bland description which began and ended with the tsunami event was not acceptable to the Commission, which was now looking for fool-proof methods of securing its nuclear power assets along with accurate and extensive case studies from the Japanese example.

According to author M V Ramana in his book The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India, some nuclear projects in India have come close to “disaster.” Other experts contradict this claim, pointing to a lack of evidence and reminding us of the fact that the difference between an “accident” and a “disaster” is significant. The fact that there is no clear record on accidents or potential disasters at India’s nuclear power plants raises important questions about the transparency of information on the issue.

This opacity in India’s regulatory structures in the nuclear energy sphere is something the DAE and senior officials in New Delhi will need to revisit at a much deeper level in a post Fukushima world. Appointments of independent regulators and directors working with the DAE and corporations will need to ensure that regulations are followed to the letter to avoid catastrophe. A nuclear disaster like Fukushima would have dire consequences in heavily populated India. Memories of the Bhopal tragedy, which killed an estimated 10,000 people in 1984, are still fresh, and so is the mismanagement of the fallout by the government of the day, including letting the senior management of U.S. firm Union Carbide escape scot free.

An audit of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) last year found irregularities in AERB’s mandates, which included worrying issues such as the agency not possessing enough power to oversee nuclear safety and security, failure of the board to develop a full and comprehensive safety policy, an order given to it in 1986, poor inspection rates, lack of formal procedures for decommissioning nuclear reactors, and other concerns.

India needs to move carefully in developing its civil nuclear industry and it should immediately begin setting up proper channels for communication on nuclear issues between the public and the state. Learning from Fukushima in both the technology and policy sectors is not an option for New Delhi; it is an absolute necessity.


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The Issue Of Energy And Elections In India

Blog Exclusive (previously unpublished)

A new film directed by ‘part-time film makers and part-time historians’ Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa has highlighted the issue of India’s tryst with one of its single biggest challenges as a developing economy, energy. The film, titled ‘Katiyabaaz’, is set in the industrial city of Kanpur in the north-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an area which houses a population of nearly 200 million people. The film follows the city’s annual problems with power outages, the middlemen (or katiyabaaz) who steal and provide power to businesses, politicians and their empty promises of bridging the deficit and so on.

The issue of energy or lack of thereof, has gained increasing attention prior to India’s general elections next year. However, as some states such as Delhi get ready for elections in December itself, new political entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has raised the topic of the allegedly inflated power prices. AAP’s convener, Arvind Kejriwal, even went on a hunger strike earlier this year to protest against inflated electricity bills.

Energy has for long been the Indian economy’s Achilles’ heel, with wide-spread power shortages plaguing much of the country. However, over the past decade, power production in India has increased at a steady pace with pressure on the government from businesses and residents’ alike rising to plug the deficit. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 288 million people in India are still known to be living without electricity supply. These people are yet to be linked to India’s energy distribution system and this provides New Delhi with a mammoth task ahead.

According to data released by the Ministry of Power, India has achieved 100 percent electrification of all the towns across all states. The government’s definition of electrification describes it as only 10 percent of households of an area need to be receiving electricity for that entire village or town to be considered “electrified”.

However, electrification of villages is where the actual energy challenge lies. Some of the most power deficient states in this aspect are in North Eastern India and Northern India. The state of Jharkhand is India’s least electrified state for villages, with only 31.1 percent penetration. Other struggling states include Arunachal Pradesh (56.6 percent), Tripura (57.2 percent), Meghalaya (59.2 percent), Odisha (62.6 percent) and so on. Meanwhile, others such as Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana now claim a 100 percent electrification success rate.

On the other hand, household electrification data accessed via the National Census of 2011 shows that the states of Bihar (10.4 percent), Uttar Pradesh (23.8 percent) and Jharkhand (32.2 percent) are lagging behind due to infrastructural and distribution challenges. In total, according to a report by consulting group Deloitte, access to electricity services in India stands at around 90 percent of villages and 56 percent of rural households.

The Indian Government’s current scheme for creating rural electricity infrastructure started in 2005, named the “Rajeev Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY),”  is seen as a success in bringing electrification projects to villages across the country. Currently, under this scheme, 648 electrification projects in 579 districts are in progress, with most taking place in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

“There are two ways of looking at India’s energy struggle,” explains Kameswara Rao, Leader Energy, Utilities and Mining, PriceWaterhouseCoopers India.

“There have been recent positive improvements in power production, however it is still important to remember that nearly 300 million people are not connected at all. Affordability also remains an issue. The good thing is the existing diversity and balance in power production which ranges from thermal to renewable. In fact, the government is heavily investing in renewables now”.

Latest figures on power generation achieved shows that the gap in power deficiency is being addressed gradually, but the efficiency at which this is being orchestrated is questionable. In August this year, the peak power deficit was brought down to 2.7 percent or 3,555 MW due to the good Monsoon season, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). The deficit was as high as 9.6 percent for the same month in 2012.

However, latest data for the month of September on power generation this year saw a shortage of 3.6 percent, down significantly from 10 percent which was observed in September 2012, yet higher from the month before it. Total peak demand for the period was 1,34,150 MW out which 1,29,269 MW was met, according to the CEA.
Fluctuations in power production have plagued the system mainly due to shortage of vital fuels such as coal, transmission problems, struggling railway infrastructure feeding the power plants and so on. According to a review by the CEA last year, 11 percent loss in power generation was observed due to the above mentioned factors.

India produces more than 55 percent of its power via thermal or coal energy. This is expected to increase up to 70 percent by 2017, even as cleaner alternatives such as solar (the world’s biggest solar power plant is set to be built in Rajasthan) and hydro along with more controversial options such as nuclear are being embraced in a big way.

“The RGGVY scheme has been very successful. The capacity addition has been phenomenal in the period between 2007 and 2013, and today we have sufficient capacity to generate power to meet the demand,” says R. S. Sharma, Chairman, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Power Committee.

“The government of India has been successful in providing the transmission and distribution infrastructure required to supply electricity to the rural areas of India. However, thrust is required to optimise the cost of supply of electricity by providing fuel security to electricity generation.”

India’s plaguing energy deficit is not only constrained to generating electricity as it is also one of the world’s biggest importers of oil & gas, with more than 83% of its supplies coming from abroad. To pay for this, the country shells out nearly $150 billion annually to secure supplies from all around the world. Further financial strain is incurred as it distributes vital fuels such as diesel at highly subsidised rates to help farmers and transporters. These subsidies mixed with high crude oil prices in international markets have created unprecedented pressure on India’s now bulging fiscal deficit.

The issue of fuel prices in India is a highly sensitive one, both politically and economically. Commodities such as diesel play a vital role in maintaining inflation in a very price sensitive society which currently is dealing with both, a flailing GDP, and widespread poverty. Even as diesel pricing has been deregulated by the government, the fuel remains a vital political and economic tool, and a hovering government control on pricing still remains.

“The transport of goods within India is mainly through road and rails in which diesel plays an important role,” explains T Senthil Kumar, Fellow, Industrial Energy Group, TERI.

“Diesel has got a very high impact on the pricing of other commodities. In a deregulated scenario, if the diesel price increases, the price of other commodities also increases, but if the price of diesel decreases then the price of other commodities will not decrease. Hence, even in a deregulated scenario these liquid fuels become important political and economic commodities.”

These pressures have also become critical to the upcoming elections as India’s Oil Minister, Veerappa Moily, tries to reduce the country’s oil import bill by nearly $25 billion. To achieve this target, the minister has turned to the common man for assistance. In a lead-by-example move, Mr Moily started taking the metro train to his office and has vowed to continue using public transportation once a week to set an example for other ministries, along with urging the public to embrace the same.

India’s own domestic oil and gas exploration and production sector has been failing to balance domestic production with imports. India has allowed 100 percent FDI in the exploration and production sector since 2003, but even this has not been able to attract enough foreign companies to bid for blocks in the country.

Mr Moily has claimed that India will become “self-sufficient” in the energy sector by 2030. However, it remains to be seen whether the grave challenges that remain to be addressed will make this aim into a reality as some experts see the minister’s aims as “outlandish”.


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