Energy crisis in India can be viewed by two angles. One is imported energy, the other is macro imbalance. The two are interrelated. There is no point in blaming the rest of the world for our problems. Recently, globalisation was all the good things of life. But we missed the flip side of it. In fact, the global bazaar works fully and mercilessly both ways. The government is working on a strategy since finally the price will have to be paid by consumers. Much as we would like, there are no easy solutions.
Some of the flamboyant gestures suggested, not to further the cause of nuclear energy one bit and also distract attention from serious possibilities being negotiated. Needless to say no two situations are the same.
In the first energy crisis, we walked on two legs. It was savage on energy prices, petrol becoming the most expensive in the world. People switched to car pools and contract buses and the demand for petrol actually went down.
All this is unnecessary now since oil purchased with dollars will be paid with rupee purchasing power, but scarcity prices have to be paid.
The more interesting part is the macro story. That needs a technocratic map and a realistic negotiating strategy. It would be very counterproductive to go slow on the rupee expenses on flagship schemes like the NREGS, the agricultural schemes and education and health.
The notion that the other fellow has to pay the price for inflation control will not wash. If per capita income is rising by 7.5 per cent, prices can rise by 4.5percent, and then all claims have at the margin to be less than 12 per cent, for the inflationary overhang has also to be naeutralized. The details of “we will all pay for it” can provide a base for negotiation.
We need a credible roadmap and then start negotiations in the framework of carrying the political process with it. It is true that reform without consensus building is impractical. But there are also too many instance of parties accepting the second best if not the optimal answer.
The Distribution Bill unanimously approved in Parliament in late nineties was used to push through India’s largest and in fact only foreign investment in distribution of electricity. The draft bill was later incorporated in fundamentals into the Electricity Act.
Experts have recently highlighted the nuclear decision of the late Rajiv Gandhi, but it was a part of a holistic strategy of pushing non-proliferation globally, detailed cooperation with the USSR on the fast breeder reactors and the GSLV, with the US on strategic cooperation as also with France, Japan and Italy.
With the USSR we not only negotiated the light VVR reactors and the cryogenic engines, but also laid economic relations on the fast track in the first round of reforms. The Indo-US Technology Forum goes back to that period. The opposition to the nuclear agreement has to be surrounded in the blanket of national self-interest Coalitions work harder so that there is no going back.
The writer is a former Union minister for power, planning and science, and was vice-chancellor of JNU, Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org