IN the last Independence Day speech of his five-year term, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam predicated India's national security on its energy security. He mooted three initiatives for the government and Parliament: an Energy Independence Bill, a Citizens' Security Bill and a parliamentary resolution to transform the country into a "safe, prosperous and socio-economically developed nation before the year 2020".
The president's pitch for energy independence also comes in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal on August 17, amid claims that Washington was shifting goal posts. Without referring to the controversy, Kalam underscored the need for "sustained debate and decision-making" for achieving comprehensive national security.
On the nuclear-fuel theme, the president focussed on domestic uranium mining and harnessing by scientists and technologists of the country's "vast thorium resources" in view of India's capacity to build its own thorium-based reactors.
"This will enable us to be self-reliant, secure and independent in nuclear energy," he said.
Call it coincidence, the presidential counsel came within hours of a joint statement signed, among others, by three former chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission: Dr H.N. Sethna, Dr M.R. Srinivasan and Dr P.K. Iyengar.
They maintained that the Indo-US deal in the form approved by the US House of Representatives "infringes on our independence" for carrying out indigenous research and development in nuclear science and technology. In this context, they mentioned specifically the (thorium-based) fast-breeder reactors that are "crucial to the future of our energy security".
"R&D is the sovereign right of any nation. This is especially true when it concerns strategic national defence and energy self-sufficiency," the scientists' statement noted in what seemed an echo of Kalam's advice. They asked parliamentarians to ensure that decisions taken today did not inhibit the country's ability to develop and pursue nuclear technologies.