Monday, September 15, 2008

Changing Gears

Its time for a change.

Going forward, this blog will focus on issues, of Mumbai, for Mumbai and created, more often than not, by Mumbai (and her residents themselves).

Its an attempt to shift focus from things that don't matter to the things that do.
Things that will determine if Mumbai remains a city worth living in 25 years from now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fooling all the people all the time

The Indian media is going into raptures over the NSG waiver, hailing India’s “major success”. Some are even proclaiming the “End of Nuclear apartheid” thanks to this deal. India will now have 24/7 electricity, it would seem, thanks to Manmohan Singh.

The BJP predictably, is rather angry that too much may have been given away – specifically in the area of weapons testing – to get this waiver.

In reality, however, both parties have got it wrong. This deal is totally, completely irrelevant – both from an energy and military security perspective. It is classic politics -- all froth, no substance.

In terms of energy security, the waiver will do nothing for India. All the waiver does is allows India to enter the “shop of suppliers” (who peddle uranium and nuclear power plants) and do business with them at market rates. The trouble is these toys do not come cheap.

Nuclear power is extremely expensive, even before considering potential environmental costs. Various sources have placed the price of power from a nuclear power plant in India in the region of 12-16 Rs per unit, vis-à-vis Rs 2-8 per unit from the conventional “mix” of plants (hydel, coal, gas, oil, others).

The “waiver” is hence the intellectual equivalent of a Prada store adopting an open door policy. Sure the indigent and daily wage earners can come in, but they’re unlikely to be able to afford anything on sale.

Second, these toys take extremely long to make – upto 10 years from stone laying to commercial power supply. In that time, India’s generation gap is likely to cross 70,000 MW! Montek and Co themselves concede that at most, nuke generation will contribute 10% to this gap closure.

So we will have 7,000 MW of Nuclear power ten years from now. Maharashtra’s power shortage is 6,000 MW. Today. What do we do for the immediate 10 years?

In Indian conditions, Even the 10 year time frame is a myth. It took India 20 years merely to get one Sardar Sarovar done, when its only downside was tribal displacement. Replace “displacement” with “toxic nuclear waste” and pictures of deformed babies. Now imagine the opposition to even one such plant.

All in all then, Manmohan’s great coup – coming on the back of purchased MPs and a forever tarnished Parliament, is likely to yield nothing for the country. We will still remain in the dark.

On the other side, the BJP’s obsession with weapons testing is also tiresome. And irrelevant. Since when has International Law been an impediment to developing your own weapons program?. Such inconveniences have scarcely affected our neighbours – Pakistan and China – from coming together and raising a vibrant (and promiscuous) “Nuclear family” all the while claiming to be chaste. BJP is revealing its own lack of political depth if it it believes they cannot do the same when in power!

In all this, there is something to learn, however, about how to become a superlative politician. In one fell swoop via this deal, Manmohan Singh has re-earned and further burnished his “Reformer” credentials, washing away from the public’s mind all memory of his and his Administration’s grave acts of omission and commission since 2004 (inter alia, multiple constitutional travesties a-la Goa and Bihar, ruinous economic policies resulting in the fiscal deficit growing to pre Narasimha Rao days, blatant communalization of Indian politics with “first claim to resources to muslims” while serially trampling on hindus (“Ram did not exist”), total mishandling of domestic terrorism and reduction of parliament to a horse trading floor).

It is for this alone, that I have to admit to a grudging sense of admiration for both MMS and the Kkkangress.

They’ve proved, that if done right, you can fool all of the people all of the time.