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Wheeling dealing

The informed debate currently taking place in the country on the Indo-US nuclear deal reflects the growing maturity of Indian democracy, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2006 03:56 IST

The informed debate currently taking place in the country on the Indo-US nuclear deal reflects the growing maturity of Indian democracy. The issues are by now very pervasive in the media and need little repetition. We have consistently articulated our apprehensions. It is indeed gratifying now to see the eight high priests of the Indian nuclear establishment who have built India’s nuclear capabilities, defying and overcoming US-led sanctions in the past, reinforce the essence of our fears. If reconfirmation were ever necessary, this nails the lie that our questioning the deal arises not from our ‘congenital anti-imperialist rhetoric’. Our apprehensions arise from our non-negotiable responsibility to safeguard India’s sovereignty.

It is well-known that the Left has all along opposed India’s nuclear weapons programme. We had opposed Pokhran II and continue to oppose nuclear weapon stockpiling. But then, we are firm defenders of the right that any decision in this regard will have to be a domestic Indian decision, not influenced by any power across the seas.

Having said this, there are other issues that need to be a part of the current debate. The first of these refers to civilian nuclear cooperation. In other words, this means that India, aiming at a high-growth trajectory, requires to bolster its energy resources. There is no contesting the fact that an 8 per cent plus GDP growth rate requires a significant augmentation of energy resources. The current Indo-US deal is being trumpeted for such an augmentation.

What, however, are the facts? The installed capacity in 2005 shows that nuclear electricity generation is a mere 2.5 per cent of India’s total. If this deal comes through, from the 3,310 MW current generation, it would increase to 10,000 MW by 2015 (not more than 5 per cent of India’s projected total). Given this, can India enter into a deal that severely restricts its sovereignty?

Currently, India’s fuel production mix shows that 55 per cent is produced from coal. At the present rate of consumption, coal is expected to last for another 250 years or so. The cost-effectiveness of coal to nuclear production of electricity is at a conservative level, 2:3. With gas, the ratio is 1:2 and with hydro-electricity the ratio is 3:5. By all estimates, nuclear electricity generation is the most expensive.

Should India therefore have a preference for this option? That too, at the expense of abandoning the cheapest source of electricity production through the Iran gas pipeline?

According to the National Hydro-Power Corporation, the untapped potential in India is nearly 50,000 MW. Combine this with the estimates for Nepal at 83,000 MW. Any reasonable mind would suggest that this should be explored, not merely for power generation, but also to tame these rivers from continuously causing immense damage through floods that we are currently seeing in various parts of our country.

In the face of these facts, the overt anxiety to develop nuclear power generation capacities naturally raises apprehensions. This is bolstered by the fact that no new nuclear power capacity has been installed in the US for the past three decades, mainly due to problems of disposing nuclear waste and the high costs! Through this deal, is India now being bulldozed to buy reactors from the US? This will not only finance its economy but will also keep India perpetually indebted to its supplies of nuclear fuel and the accompanying blackmail and blandishments.

It is against the backdrop of these apprehensions that we have asked the government to affirm, through a debate in Parliament, that it shall not retract from the assurances the PM has given the House on at least nine counts. These are given below.

1) India will not compromise its strategic interests. The question of India’s nuclear weapon capability is something that we Indians shall decide. It is not at the behest of the US.

2) India must insist on full-cooperation on civilian nuclear technology that includes the complete fuel cycle. The US Senate version of the Bill seeks to restrict reprocessing of the spent fuel. The rejection of this is crucial for India’s future. Through such reprocessing, India is seeking to arrive at using thorium as a nuclear fuel instead of imported uranium in use today.

3) The PM asserted in Parliament on July 29, 2005, that India’s separation of its civilian and strategic programmes was “conditional upon and reciprocal to the US fulfilling its side of the understanding”. The US Senate and Congress resolutions speak of an annual certification by the US President that India is ‘adhering’. Literally, a good conduct certificate. This is the path through which the US would seek to browbeat India into supporting its foreign policy positions. In fact, in favouring this deal Senator Luger in his opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approvingly noted “We have already seen strategic benefits from our improving relations with India. India’s votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue last September and this past February demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adjust to traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues.” This, precisely, is our apprehension — India’s foreign policy will now have to dovetail into US interests.

4) The US seems to have reneged on its assurance that it would change its laws and align the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to fulfil the terms of the Indo-US deal.

5) Similar is the situation of the India-specific protocol with the IAEA. It appears that the separate protocol assurance has been dropped.

6) The placing of India’s facilities in perpetuity for inspections was a reciprocal gesture to a US guarantee of the US supplying fuel in perpetuity. This is now in doubt.

7) In the original agreement, India had agreed to work with the US for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). This bilateral and multilateral arrangement is now being converted to restrict India’s fissile material stockpile.

8) In the original agreement, only IAEA safeguards were considered. It is now proposed that physical verification will be conducted by US inspectors as well.

9) Finally, in the original agreement, India’s military programme had no monitoring requirement from the IAEA or the US. The US is now seeking that its President report to the Congress any changes in India’s production of fissile material or nuclear weapons.

Given this, a discussion in Parliament is imperative.

In the Indian parliamentary system, the executive is accountable to the legislature, unlike in the US. In the US, therefore, the Congress and the Senate need to ratify international agreements. In India, this is not required because of the accountability of the executive to the legislature. There is, however, a flaw. If the legislature disagrees with the executive, it can vote out the government. But it cannot vote out the international agreement. This flaw needs to be corrected.

It is, therefore, necessary that the Indian Parliament should also endorse international treaties prior to the executive acceding to them. This is a constitutional issue that must be urgently addressed. The country cannot be held to ransom for a government having signed the Dunkel Draft in 1994, or for minority governments signing international treaties that cannot be rescinded.

Our seeking parliamentary approval on the Indo-US nuclear deal is, therefore, in the true democratic tradition of holding the executive responsible to the legislature, and therefore the people. The maturity of the Indian democracy that we talked about at the beginning must reach these levels.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and CPI(M) Politburo member.

First Published: Aug 17, 2006 03:56 IST