People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 28

July 20 , 2008


Where Were You Mr. PM During 1991 - 1996?

Dipankar Mukherjee

“The committee observes that if our indigenously developed technology is not implemented the country will suffer a grave and near irreparable damage. The committee emphasises that fossil fuels including coal are finite and for energy independence, it is essential to harness nuclear power. Also for strategic and technical reasons, there is a need to develop a diversified energy resource base for electricity generation. By neglecting the field of nuclear power the government is guilty of having compromised the goal of energy independence for the country.”

For those who for the last three years are parroting words of “energy security” and “nuclear power” being necessary in the “enlightened” self interest of the country - be it official spokespersons of the Congress Party or the corporate spokespersons in print and electronic media - should it be not of some interest as to “which government” neglected the field of nuclear power and compromised energy security of the country? And, of course, which “committee” made such a scathing indictment on the government of the day?

It was the parliamentary standing committee on energy which in its 34th Report placed in parliament in December 1995, made the above recommendation/conclusion, after examining the subject titled “Nuclear Power Programme - An Evaluation”. The committee chaired by Jaswant Singh included among others such Congress leaders as Shiv Charan Mathur, Murli Deora, Vilas Muthemwar, P C Chako, B Shankaranand, Bhubaneswar Kalita, Dr Naunihal Singh, etc. The government receiving the indictment was the undiluted Congress-led government of 1991 - 1996 period. Of course, the present prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh was the “path-breaking” finance minister in that government.

The standing committee had taken up the subject as the nuclear profile prepared by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in 1984 which envisaged 10,000 MW nuclear power by 2000 AD, was scaled down to much lower target of 5,700 MW (As a matter of fact till date in 2008 we have achieved hardly 4,120 MW). Why was it scaled down? Was it because of “nuclear isolation” or “lack of uranium supply” or “lack of access to technology”, as is being told from roof tops today by “nuclear deal” lobby?



The committee was informed that the target was scaled down because of severe resource constraints. As a matter of fact, against an outlay of Rs 14,400 crore proposed for the Eighth Five Year Plan, the approved outlay was only Rs 4,119 crore.

When the committee desired to know the adverse consequences of abandoning the programme of 10,000 MW nuclear power, the Department of Atomic Energy stated as under:

As a matter of fact, the agony of DAE was reiterated more elaborately by the then secretary of DAE Dr R Chidambaram in 1998 before the standing committee on energy, headed by veteran Congress leader K Karunakaran, when he said:

“At the moment in terms of the electricity delivered, we are a little under three per cent. If you look at the amount of money that was provided for the nuclear power production sector during the Eighth Five Year Plan, the average is something equivalent to 100 MW per year….If you take 100 MW per year, the build up of nuclear capacity will take a very large time. Suppose somebody asked, what happened to the 10,000 MW programme, you have to divide 10,000 by 100, which will give you a very large number. At the moment, we are hoping to go ahead a little faster than that. So, I would, by and large, say that the growth of this sector will be limited by the financial resources that become available rather than by our technological capability.” (Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy, placed in parliament in July 1998)

Who were the guilty men for providing money for only 100 MW per year for nuclear power and for underutilising the nuclear facilities? Will the Congress Party answer today?



Coming back to the standing committee report placed in December 1995, when asked about his views on abandonment of nuclear power programme of 10,000 MW by 2000 AD, Dr Raja Ramanna, former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) stated:

“This is a question which has come about because the government has not been able to provide for the 10,000 MW programme. I accept the policy was to have the programme going and that is why the 'go ahead and place orders' signal was given. It seems that the Planning Commission is now not supporting the power programme to the extent required …..We should go ahead with the 10,000 MW programme, the only part that should be deleted is 'at the end of the century' and replace by 2010. This programme should be supported because it (Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor) is the one technology in which we have mastered and which is modern and it has already helped a lot.

Dr Ramanna did not know that after a decade, Congress Party will project their “legal experts” to say how important it is now to get technology from outside.

In a memorandum furnished to the same committee another expert N Srinivasan held the following views:

Shortage of funds bordering on total neglect has characterised the approach to nuclear power on the part of the government. The stretching of the schedule to match the flow of funds has escalated costs to the extent that they do not reflect the true costs but avoidably inflated ones. This leads to an adverse assessment of the economics of nuclear power. The absence of a long term committed plan has discouraged industry regarding future participation which again will be reflected in higher costs of the future products. In fact some large manufacturers of equipment had set up shops for nuclear components and have had to shift them for other applications. In the absence of a committed continuous programme the technology built under heavy odds over four decades will be irretrievably lost.”

The experts had a clear vision (not the US vision) of nuclear power in India in the 21st century, as Srinivasan told the committee:

“There is need to draw up a plan for the next twenty five years integrating nuclear power with the national needs as well as the needs to maintain an optimum pace to keep this valuable technology alive - and improving all the time - and availing of the benefits of repeat ordering of major components. It is entirely feasible to build up a nuclear power capacity of 20,000 MW by 2020, representing 10 per cent of the capacity at that time. This will require a will to pursue the programme backed by good planning from now and a sensible method of funding.”

This was elaborated further by another expert C V Sundaram, former director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in his memorandum to the committee, in which he stated:

“A possible projection - with a sufficient content of challenge and ambition - will be that nuclear power generation in the country should be increased to a proportion of 10 to 15 per cent of total electricity generation in the first half of the next century. A capacity of 10,000 to 15,000 MW based PHWRs should be achieved by the period 2015 to 2020. This capacity will provide adequate plutonium supply for series construction of fast breeder reactors commencing from 2020 onwards. In the second quarter of the next century, the contribution from the fast breeder reactors can be steadily stepped up. The implementation of such a programme will provide the essential experience and confidence for flexible energy planning in the second half of the next century.”

None of these experts talked about nuclear isolation or lack of technology but only of planning and funds. They obviously did not contemplate that within a decade, it will be the American president, senators and corporates who will dictate India's road map for clean energy.



For the benefit of nuclear deal lobbyists in the media who are giving headlines on uranium shortage, here is what Dr Chidambaram said before the standing committee in 1998:

“…the amount of uranium resources that we have is equivalent to something like 1.2 billion tonnes of coal which can be raised to 100 billion tonnes equivalent, if you go through the fast breeder route and if you are able to be successful in that. Then if you can develop the cycle, we have something like 600 to 1000 billion tonnes coal equivalent. It is a very difficult technology which would require an enormous amount of R&D.”

India's annual production capacity of coal of 400 million tonnes is catering to more than 50 per cent of power generation. How is it 1200 million tonnes of uranium is not enough for 3 per cent power production? Where is this reserve gone? “Gone with the Bush”!


BETWEEN 2005 - 2008

Was the Congress Party and its government unaware of the importance of nuclear power between 1991 - 1996 when they pruned the nuclear programme. Of course during this period some of the Congressmen were busy in getting what M/s Enron called “education” for Dabhol project. Is it mere coincidence that even the present new enlightenment on nuclear power has dawned upon them only when US Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed by president Bush. This act ensured billion of dollars of federal assistance as subsidy into so-called “nuclear renaissance” to help the moribund US nuclear industry, which was starving for orders. One can understand the reason behind the pressure from US lobby and its captive corporate media in India as the deal will give opportunity to US companies like M/s Westinghouse, GE etc to do big business - roughly around $150 billion worth according to estimates of US-India Business Council (USIBC) - but how will the Congressmen of pre-1996 vintage explain their volte-face from “pruning of nuclear power” in 1996 to “idolising of nuclear renaissance” in 2006? It may not be difficult for “Johnny-come-lately” entrants of Congress to do that. But Mr Prime Minister where were you and your advisors in the media during 1991 - 1996? How do you explain your stand before the people?

As disclosed in the media, the prime minister was happy “to report” to the US president that the Indian government has made progress in nuclear cooperation, space cooperation, defence cooperation, etc. Should he also not report to the nation on his sense of priority on nuclear power during 1991 - 1996 vis-à-vis 2005 - 2008?