Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The Act meant only what Bush intended it to mean, as solemnly agreed with India under an internationally binding treaty. The Indian critics had it wrong all along. And on being discomfited at the end are determined to fight on.

More Than Glaciers Are Melting

The India-US nuclear deal paves the way for clean, renewable energy as the global reordering continues from Wall Street to Gujarat (minus Bengal).

By B G Verghese

Tribune, 14 October, 2008

Both Wall Street and glaciers appear to be melting this season, giving everybody cause for concern. There has also been some cheer in the final signing of the 123 Agreement and the relocation of Nano from the negative no-noism of Mamata and Marxists who prefer to live in the lost world of dinosaurs.      

Conscious of approaching uncertainties and perils, the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change published a national action plan last June. This called for maintaining high growth for increasing living standards and catering to people’s needs, not their greed, and promoting sustainable production and lifestyles across the globe. Time being critical, there has to be a revolution in production and living patterns within a generation.

The civil-nuclear agreement India negotiated was with the world, though the Americans as the global gatekeeper took the onus of first steering it through the US Congress. It had thereafter to win the consent of the IAEA and NSG. With this, India became free to enter into peaceful nuclear commerce with the entire world marked by an agreement for civil-nuclear cooperation with France. Final ratification of the internal US 123 Agreement followed curiously American procedures, concluding with a Presidential signing speech stating that the Act meant only what Bush intended it to mean, as solemnly agreed with India under an internationally binding treaty. The Indian critics had it wrong all along. And on being discomfited at the end are determined to fight on.

The nuclear deal will enable India to move to cleaner, non-fossil fuel and renewable energy generation in three stages over the next 20 years. The progression will be from current uranium nuclear technology to fast-breeders and finally to a more efficient thorium cycle for which the country has plentiful raw material. The issue is not the “mere” six per cent nuclear energy India will be able to produce tomorrow, but its ability to augment this exponentially thereafter, making a notable contribution not only to energy security but to an emission-free fuel cycle. This will enhance and not detract from national sovereignty and independence.

The Nano land-fight at Singur, led by Manata Bannerjee but taken over by sundry agitators and ideologues, was a manifestation of agro-nostalgia divorced from current realities. Agriculture can no longer sustain growing numbers that must be increasingly shifted to off-farm industrial and service occupations. The only relevant issues were fair compensation and rehabilitation. The package offered was generous and could have been enhanced, with left-outs included. But Mamata was out to “save” agriculture. A flagship project invited to instill confidence in West Bengal’s professed new investment and industrial culture and create much-needed jobs, was scuttled. The Nano has migrated to Gujarat. While it is deserving of support, the far greater need is to expand public transport by bus and rapid transit systems as much as by restoring pedestrian and bicycle-friendly tracks even in large cities. Technology, taxation, municipal laws and national transportation policy must be collectively harnessed to achieve this goal. We need to de-clutter roads of traffic and parking, reduce unit and overall emissions and save on expensive oil imports.

The shift to public transport must be part of a national and, indeed, global lifestyle
change as hyper-consumption is no longer environmentally and socially viable. The widening gap between rich and poor citizens, regions and nations has caused growing tension and conflict and must be reversed. Were India and China to imitate American living standards, based on waste, the world would run out of natural resources. The Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth estimates when first propounded were pooh-poohed. They have now been reworked and suggest that those grim prognostications were not overly exaggerated. The scarcely hidden competition for oil, if not outright oil wars, is a foretaste of what future conflicts over other resources, water included, might be like. It could tear the world apart. Therefore the issue confronting us globally is not merely reducing emissions but of scaling down lifestyles from greed to reasonable need-plus comforts between and within nations.    

This is also the message of the global stock market crisis. Banks and financial institutions have far overstretched themselves, driven more by greed than economic prudence. Central Banks and global financial institutions have gone along with this misadventure. The US and UK bail out packages have rightly been criticised by legislators and the citizenry as a bail out for the criminals at the cost of their victims. During the earlier Asian financial crisis, the West loftily blamed Asian gullibility and venality while cheerfully picking up the best pieces. This time, Western economies are imperilled and threatening to pull down others with them. This may yet be prevented but there will have to be a reordering of global economic and market priorities and a new design for living. In India, one happy outcome could be a reprioritization of economic goals in the medium term in favour of agriculture, infrastructure and the social sector so that the Indian economy and society are brought into better balance for the next forward thrust.
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