Friday, February 24, 2012

Believe in the PM…..

The PM has made very uncharacteristically bold statements about the hand of certain NGOs from certain foreign countries in stalling the Koodankulam nuclear power project in TN. The PM hasn’t given “proof” as such; but knowing him, he would not have spoken had he not been convinced. Already there are many who are accusing the PM of playing the “foreign hand” card – a la what was common political strategy in the 1970s and 80s – needlessly politicizing an issue of such national importance. If these people are to be believed, we should trust the agitators more than the PM. I find this atrocious.

The PM is the last person to rely on a foreign hand theory to push for the resolution of the logjam in Koodankulam. If anything, the PM comes from a rather pro-Western belief system – having been known to be a liberal all his life and having served in many multilateral financial institutions. The major complaint that the PM’s opponents – most notably the Left – have against the PM is in fact that he is too liberal, too pro-US. As per them, the PM has a definite bias towards Western bodies and institutions, not against them. It looks highly unbelievable then that the PM would speak out against US funded NGOs for any political reason. If he has done so, he must have solid reasons to do so…..

The PM’s party, the Congress, has nothing to gain directly from a resolution of the Koodankulam issue. If the issue is resolved – as it should be considering that Rs 14000 odd crores have already been spent and the plant is more than 99% ready – it is the country that benefits, not the Congress party. There is also no existential threat to the Congress at the moment – at least not from the Koodankulam stalemate. In the past, when the foreign hand excuse was used, it was used to deflect failure of the government. That is simply not the case here.

The PM has also done his level best to reassure the agitators that the plant is safe and that they should not be worried. Well, there is always a certain amount of worry with anything in life; but there is nothing specific about Koodankulam that should worry the people of that place. There is a whole phalanx of scientists in India and worldwide who have reassured us about the safety of the plants. In fact, the PM sent the most respected of them all – the former President Abdul Kalam – to have a look at the issues raised. And Kalam re-iterated what most scientists have said. Not only is the plant safe; it is amongst the safest in the world. For the agitators still not to be convinced smacks of a lot of political agenda. If Kalam cannot satisfy the agitators, can anyone then? This is turning out to be a movement similar to Anna’s – no matter what one tried to convince Anna, he was hell bent on only his single formulation of the Lokpal being accepted. Out here too, the agitators want only their point of view to be accepted – that the plant be scrapped.

There is one major reason why I have no sympathy for these agitators. Or for that matter, their sympathisers. Sympathizers like Medha Patkar. These agitators have no solution to offer for the power needs of India. Let’s say we give up on nuclear power. How then will we raise the 4,00,000-6,00,000 MW of power we need to additional generate in the next 20 years? Many of these agitators are opposed to thermal power plants also – because they also reflect the global warming cause. Many of them are against hydro electric plants because they submerge large tracts of land dislodging millions of people. One such person is Medha Patkar. She’s been a strong voice against the Narmada dam project (hydro electric power and irrigation). She’s fighting against Koodankulam (nuclear power). And she also talks against global warming caused by thermal power plants! (She repeated this on TV last night). So if we rely neither on thermal, nor hydro, nor nuclear power plants, how do we build the capacity we need? Many activists ignorantly state that we should rely on non-conventional energy sources – wind power, tidal power, solar power, biogas and the like. I do agree that we should, but the capacity of such systems is very limited. Unfortunately, none of these technologies is either sizeable or scalable. The biggest wind power plant is in the US – the Horse Hollow Wind Energy center in Texas – has only a 700 MW capacity. The biggest solar power plant is also in the US – in California’s Mojave Desert – has a capacity of only 354 MW. The biggest biogas, or tidal, or anything else is even smaller. These simply are no options at all. We simply have to rely on the traditional forms of power generation – and amongst all of them, nuclear power is the cleanest, safest source of power.

Many people – including panel members on TV shows – talk about how Germany has decided to stop using nuclear power. They forget that the Germans have already got all the power they need – they don’t need to build too many more plants in the future. The US did not build nuclear power plants for 30 years apparently. Sure, but they are building many now. Besides, they have never been power deficient. These panelists forget to mention how France generates more than 70% of its electricity using nuclear power plants and they don’t seem to be having any rethoughts. What about China – a country which has huge needs of electric power like we have? Well, its building a lot of everything – the world’s biggest hydro power; a huge amount of thermal capacity; and a huge amount of nuclear power plants. It’s time we stopped dishing out such ignorant arguments.

What about the political opponents of the PM? Well, it’s strange that Jayalalitha has not been able to figure out what kind of destructive politics is being played by the activists in her own backyard. Is it that she is unaware – a highly unlikely probability considering her own political savvy – or is that she is part of the brigade that wants to make life difficult for the Center? And what about the BJP? Wouldn’t one expect that at least on matters of national importance, the party would think of the country first? The NDA had a pro-nuclear power stance when it was in power. Rather than asking the PM to furnish evidence of the foreign hand, wouldn’t it be better if it extended unquestioned support to the government on this limited issue? After all, if Rs 14000 crores of investments gets stuck, it harms the country. Is there any reason for any politics on this?

The real truth is that governance is becoming impossible in this country. Every arbitrary protest group is able to cobble together a few thousands supporters. Getting funding is easy. And then a hungry and ignorant media is happy to fan all such movements irrespective of the consequences for the country. It’s time the political leadership of all parties got together and decided where to draw the line…..

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