Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee put up a stout defence of the Hyde Act in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, underlining that it was a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement and not an arms control measure.
He emphasised that the country would not foreclose the nuclear option and if national interest so demanded, India would have to go ahead and do it (carry out tests). Mukherjee was speaking on the behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was present but could not make a statement due to severe toothache.
Allaying apprehensions that the legislation compromised India’s national interests, the foreign minister reiterated that the government stood committed to the July 2005 joint statement, separation plan of March 2006 and the assurances given by the PM to Parliament in August.
Referring to the 123 agreement, he said, “The real negotiations between the United States and India will begin now. So far it was between the US administration and legislation.”
BJP leader Arun Shourie said the US strategy was to ultimately place all nuclear reactors under safeguards. “The five nuclear weapons states together have 237 reactors but only 11 of those are under safeguards. We have agreed to put 14 under safeguards in one go.”
Shourie said instead of mortgaging the country’s security, the government should re-double research in breeder programmes, make department of atomic energy more accountable and focussed and intensify nuclear mining.
The Left was also critical of the Hyde Act with Sitaram Yechury saying that the objective of the deal seemed to be providing the US a market for nuclear reactors. He said the cost of nuclear energy was exorbitant and India should consider tapping the potential of hydroelectric energy.
Congress member Abhishek Manu Singhvi, however, said the 123 agreement would allow India to generate 20 per cent of its energy needs from nuclear power, as against the current figure of 3 per cent.
He said concerns about the agreement binding India from carrying out further tests and not permitting re-processing of nuclear fuel could be taken up during further negotiations. He said India reserved the right to walk away from the deal if it didn’t shape up the way it has been envisaged.
Shobhana Bhartia and Rahul Bajaj were among the members who took part in the discussion on the deal. Mukherjee assured the House that the deal would not compromise national security and strategic autonomy in any manner.
He said nothing in it barred India from re-processing imported uranium and this formed a key element of the negotiations ahead of the 123 agreement.The foreign minister said the country would stick to the voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing but it would not be a treaty-bound commitment.