Saturday, April 30, 2011

Energy Security - Nuclear Energy:The Worst Option

While the advanced countries on this globe are working towards abandoning the nuclear energy options, we in India true to our tag of third world nation are going gaga  over nuclear energy options. Surprisingly our policy makers very conveniently prefer to close their eyes to 3 mile island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-ichi disasters. The nation is constantly being fed on half baked truth of Nuclear Energy as the only viable Energy Security available and the accompanying safety concerns are being underplayed. By selling nuclear energy plants to India, the US and French presidents may be guilty of working against the humanity but they are certainly working in the best interests of their countries.Through these sales they are ensuring extra jobs to their countrymen, earning huge  amounts from investments made by their countries in the fields of infrastructure and technologies for nuclear plant engineering in sixties and seventies of last century as also making these huge funds so earned available for research and technology development in solar and wind power sectors which will enable them to retain their status as world leaders even in the upcoming field of renewable energy science, engineering and technology. But why are our leaders, policy makers and technocrats helping them out in realising their goals? Why are they ignoring what these advanced countries are doing for their own energy security during the coming decades?
Let us do a little bit of fact finding regarding status of nuclear energy programs of these advanced countries.
  • In USA during the last 25 years no new additions have been made to nuclear energy. During the same period they have added about 80000 mw of wind and solar power and as an endeavour to have more and more of clean energy, huge sums are being allocated to these energy sectors to replace conventional thermal power plants in spite of a very powerful nuclear lobby.
  • France is perhaps the only country which has been increasing its dependence on nuclear energy up to now. They are also feeling the heat of lagging behind in renewable energy which is the most sought after and viable technology on a major part of our globe.
  • Germany is going ahead with the complete phasing out of nuclear power by 2022 simultaneously aiming to boost electricity generation from non polluting sources like wind and solar to 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 from less than 20% now.
  • South Africa is seriously thinking about not going ahead with proposed nuclear energy plants. Rather they think it will be wiser to invest in the new energy solutions i.e. renewable sources like wind and solar.
  • Japan has placed a moratorium on setting up of new reactors and are seriously reviewing all present installations.
  • China has an installed renewable energy capacity of  80000 mw ( wind and solar ) while they are aiming at about 40000 mw of nuclear power by 2015. Their priorities on energy sources are quite inevitable in their policies.
It is very clear that whole world including nuclear energy reactor designers and fabricators namely US and France are going slow with this much touted energy security solution. The reasons are not very difficult to apprehend when we go into the details of economy and problems of proliferation, nuclear waste management and safety concerns.Nuclear power plants come at an exorbitant cost of Rs 25 crores / mw and in fact this may escalate to about Rs 50 crores when measures for waste management, disaster compensation insurance and stringent safety norms likely to be imposed in the light of Japanese disaster are taken into account. In comparison wind, hydro and thermal power can be installed at a cost of about Rs 5-6 crore per mw and solar energy could be installed at Rs 16-20 crore per mw. Additionally nuclear power plants have a very long gestation period of 10-15 years and investment recovery period of 25-40 years.
The radioactive material is susceptible to thefts by or eventual sale to terrorists or international criminal organisations. The accidental release of radioactivity as a result of reactor accident, terrorist attack or as a consequence of some natural disaster can be catastrophic. The scientists and technocrats would like to say that chances of such an occurrence are 1 in a billion or a trillion but can they deny that such an occurrence could as well be the 1st one and the balance of (1 trillion - 1) occurrences can be catastrophe free.
The environment hazards arising as a result of nuclear power plants cannot be ignored. For India add to this the all time dependence for nuclear fuel on other countries rendering us prone to blackmail at the whims and fancies of these suppliers.
In the light of all this is it advisable to go in for this option when much better and safe options are available? Let wisdom and national interest prevail on our politicians and nuclear technocrat lobby so that we do not fall prey to US and French interests and in the bargain lose our chance of leading the world in the transition to renewable energy solutions. Let us make best use of our being backward in per capita energy consumption, for US, Europe and China combined together will not add or replace 8,00,000 mw which India is planning to add during the next decade or so.We have the opportunity of fine tuning wind and solar energy technologies and cut down their costs through development of large scale manufacturing facilities without having to bother about our earlier investments in any energy field becoming redundant and superfluous.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Corruption In India - The Fight Against

    After the government order on formulation of the Lok Pal Bill draft, there have been all kind of reactions from politicians, intelligentsia and journalists. Some think that the drafting is the job of legislatures, some think that Lok Pal institution cannot put an end to corruption while a few think that there is not much of corruption in the country. The vast majority of Indian citizens however are aware of the huge corruption in the Indian economic system with its tentacles rooted deep in all walks of life as also the fact that Lok Pal Bill if at all it comes into force will be like touching the tip of the iceberg in our fight against this demon called corruption. A lot more legislation and governance methodologies will have to be adopted to put an end to corruption practices. The noise being made about the individual members and the kind of aspersions being cast on them does not give much hope to poverty ridden millions of this country. In fact the concerted effort being made by the polity of the country in maligning these members is aimed at nipping this evil of an effective Lok Pal Bill in the bud. After all we should not forget that these very politicians have seen to it that nothing happened on this front for the past forty years. It is well known that India does not have men at the top who could be called incorruptible. For some money is their waterloo, for some wine and woman and for some it could be the lust of power. In India the mighty and the powerful are all guilty on one count or the other otherwise they will not be either silent spectators or partners to the rot of corruption engulfing this country.
    I was naive when I wrote in these columns that fighting corruption will in no way clash with the political, economic, social or any other policy agenda of any party or politician. But I was absolutely wrong, in fact I  realize that maintaining status quo in this matter is the topmost agenda for all of them. The script of the story of Lok Pal Bill should be clear to any Indian even with an iota of intelligence. In the first instance a draft will be formulated ( that too if the pressure by civil society and media is maintained ) leaving enough scope for other parties to find faults and not to vote for it. This will be managed in such a subtle manner that the country will never know as to who was for it and who was against it. In fact the unwritten collusion amongst all politicians of this country over corruption has been so strong that we have no winners and no losers in this issue even after forty years of dilly dallying. If any sincerity to the country and its masses is still left in these politicians, let them come out openly with their vision of the bill and commit publicly that they will see the smooth passage of this bill in parliament provided it contains all features  mentioned in their vision. Incidentally the strength of all national and major regional parties in both the houses is much more than what is required for enacting this bill. The country is witness to their  being unanimous and behaving as constituents of a national government when matter relating to their salaries, pension and perks were taken up in the parliament. Let them for once show the same attitude towards this national cause of fight against corruption.

    Good Governance : Subsidies - Let Us Forget Them

    In India 37% population of the country i.e. about 45 crores or 10 crore families live below poverty line which means an earning of less than Rs10/- a day per person. It is imperative on the part of the government to help this large chunk of population to enable it to live above BPL and contribute effectively to furtherance of development process.For this government provides food subsidy, fuel subsidy and has embarked upon programs to provide houses, drinking water and sanitation, rural roads, health, education and minimum employment guarantee program.
    All these programs are wonderful and the intention is also commendable. It is not understood why the authorities are blindly following the subsidy route when they all know that not even fifty percent of the subsidies reach the target group and more than half the amount in such activities is the administrative cost. Also why we  only see 45 crore mouths to be fed and not 20 crore hands who can revolutionize the fortunes of this country in no time. Perhaps it gives a feeling of greatness to politicians and inflates their ego to a level where they feel that they are the 'Ann Daatas' ( food providers ) to such large section of humanity. Or simply put, this methodology is more vote catching than actually looking after the welfare of poor class Or the lure of partaking in the accompanied loot encourages them to toe this faulty line. 
    Let us assume we adopt the methodology of providing employment to 10 crore family heads for 25 days in a month at a daily wage of Rs100 on the lines of NREGA. This gives a daily earning of Rs 17 to each member  of 45 crore BPL family at a total cost of 3,00,000 crores to the government. It places 2600 crore more man days at the disposal of government in addition to 400 crore man days likely to be generated through NREGA (yearly allocation of Rs 40,000 crores ). This huge sum of Rs3,00,000 crores can be made available by rationalizing government expenditure in the following manner.
    • No need of any food subsidy from centre and states making available a sum of 1,25,000 crores a year as it is food worth Rs 25000 crores reaches the target group, the rest is absorbed by administrative costs, pilferage and going into wrong hands.
    • No need of any subsidy on kerosene, thus saving Rs16,000 crores which largely goes as administrative cost, theft and adulteration in diesel.
    • Rationalizing subsidy on diesel. This should be made available only for agricultural sector use and goods movement through trucks. By doing this an amount of Rs 30,000 crores can be saved on the diesel subsidy and used for this noble mission. Use of subsidized diesel by passenger cars, government ministries like railways, defence, road transport etc., industry and power generators is a colossus waste of government resources.
    • Rationalizing subsidy on cooking gas by taking out home users paying an annual I Tax of Rs 5000 and above and stopping pilferage for use by commercial establishments can result in a saving of minimum Rs20,000 crores in this subsidy.
    • Annual funds of Rs 40,000 crores earmarked for NREGA will stand merged into this activity.
    • Government spending of Rs 58,000 crores on Bharat Nirman will carry a manpower expenditure of about 20%, adding another Rs 11,600 crores.
    • The other social sector allocation of about Rs 1,00,000 crore along with the social sector spending of all states can easily cover the balance Rs 58,000 crores out of envisaged Rs 3,00,000 crores required for providing a meaningful above poverty line existence to our people. Still where ever necessity of providing help is felt direct cash payments could be resorted to.
    A few musts to achieve definite success in this program :
    • In such an endeavor the NREGA wages and direct cash payments where ever or when ever necessary should be linked to inflation index.
    • All payments should be paid into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. For this banking sector has to gear up in a big way otherwise the Indian innovation will see to it that there are lots of pilferages and manipulations.
    Such a program will have a bigger chance of success as there is least chance of pilferage for only one authority is involved in certifying work done and paying into the account of the worker. With the help of UID linked bank accounts the payments can be monitored effectively. All these families could be linked to ESI scheme and provided healthcare benefits We will have 45 crore additional Indians with their heads high and a feeling that they are living on their own earnings and not on the doles and freebies provided by politicians and  other mighty and powerful of the society.

      Friday, April 8, 2011

      Corruption and Black Money -The Big Guzzlers & Creators

      You open any newspaper, you switch on any TV news channel, a day cannot pass without a few headlines about corruption and bribery scams. Such scams will invariably be connected with land, housing and real estate. In fact all activity related to this one particular sector be it allotment, sale and purchase, construction, purchase of material or renting and hiring brings in corruption, black money generation and deployment, tax avoidance and criminal activity. This sector and its progress are said to be the index of economic health of a nation. Imagine the extent of degradation of economic health of a nation when the same sector is under the cloud of corruption and bribery scandals one after the other particularly when only a negligible percentage of such cases catch the eye of media. In fact for every case that comes to limelight thousands of cases go undetected.
      Buying and selling of property normally involves 30% of payments through banks and the rest is by cash. It gives huge opportunity of absorbing ill gotten money ( be it from bribery, corruption, tax avoidance or any other illegal activity) to the buyer and simultaneously produces the same amount of black money in the hands of seller.
      In the construction business also cheque payments and receipts are kept to a bare minimum. Material purchases worth 10 lakhs are normally made against a bill of may be1.5 to 2.00 lakhs. This is true about all materials starting from bricks, timber, plumbing and hardware accessories, electrical fittings etc. to name only a few. The advantage to buyer and seller both can be understood by anybody for it does not require expertise in rocket science. Similar are the facts when it comes to hiring or renting of property.
      Gold is the next big culprit when it comes to absorbing of black money and its creation for gold buying and selling is also mainly in cash. As a general rule all asset classes are equal culprits in this game of black money generation and absorption.

      Corruption and Black Money In India:Control Through Good Governance

      The Finance Minister and the Indian Government is all the time boasting of a GDP growth rate of about 8.5% per annum and a promise to maintain the same for coming few years. Can they in the same breath talk of any one  particular value addition in this process excepting one fact that they have not totally frittered away the national resources in doling out concessions in the name of Aam Admi in form of subsidies, freebies etc. etc.. The golden opportunity that the compulsions of high wages in advanced nations has given to India with its cheap and qualified work force with the right demographic profile as also the limited privatisation in the early nineties is certainly not being properly utilised. Imagine if the opportunity is backed by good governance as was done by Japan and Singapore, where we will be after a decade or so. Needless to emphasize that presently we are being plagued by real bad governance.
      A few suggestions from an Aam Admi which can catapult the GDP growth and fate of  have nots of this country in a manner much beyond our imagination.
      • Declare a war on Corruption & Black Money. ( All Political Parties and MP's should not have any objection to this for it cannot come in the way of their political and economic agenda )
      • Make necessary arrangements to get back all black money stashed in foreign countries.
      • Do away with Quotas and Discretions of all political appointees and officials.
      • UID project should be given topmost priority so as to be completed in two year time. ( Make available all resources and money ) Its role in achieving better tax compliance, controlling subsidy leakages and midday meal program leakages cannot be undermined as it can certainly reduce them by 25%. But what about the balance 75% and we can make an even bigger dent in such dubious earnings if only we make it a point to link UID number to all immovable property and all major asset classes as also luxury items like cars, motor cycles, refrigerators, tv's, watches etc..
      • Government should acquire powers to buy minimum 2% of property and land deals in secondary market every year at 1.1 times the declared value (chosen by a random number generation technique).
      • Power of attorney in respect of immovable property should be done away with.
      • All reinforcement directorates to be beefed up many folds.
      • Three tier checks on economic status of general public individuals, government officials, politicians, business and corporates.
      • Reinforcement of judiciary to take care of economic offences and disputes to a level so that no case hangs in the courts for more than nine months.
      • And lastly all rags to riches stories and exponentially growing businesses should be reviewed for ascertaining their tax compliance.

      Thursday, April 7, 2011

      Corruption and Black Money:The Ultimate Solution

      Various scams like CWG scam, 2 G scam, Adarsh Housing Society scam and the cases of huge wealth accumulation by Hasan Ali, Shahid Balwa and many others are just the tip of the iceberg of this menace.After engaging all the enforcement, vigilance, investigation and judicial authorities of the country we are still not sure as to what will be the outcome of this. These are just a few isolated cases of something which is rampant in the country and out of which only these few have come to light somehow. In fact the the scale and magnitude at which corruption and black money generation is going on in this country may be tens of thousand times the combined scale of these scams.
      The colossus effort involved in unearthing corruption and black money and the time frame in which something can be done can be gauged by the number of agencies involved, number of persons to be interrogated and the amount of raids carried out in dealing with these few cases. For Commonwealth Games with a budget of few thousand crores, top bureaucracy, CPWD, DDA and other officials were interrogated and many times raids were also conducted on their premises. Imagine if similar problems of CPWD, DDA, and their counterparts in all states and other ministries like railways, defence, road transport and highways etc. are to be dealt with, where the construction and infra development budgets run into lakhs of crores of rupees. The quantum of corruption money and black money generated in this activity can be easily assessed through a small basic calculation. A meagre 5% extra derived from the rates, 5% from the measurements and another 10%  from relaxation of specifications and material quality and quantity used makes available a whopping sum of Rs 50000 crores as the loot being shared between contractor, political bosses, bureaucracy and technical personnel involved in various facets of  the activity. It will be worthwhile to add that these percentages are  almost impossible to detect and prove but are a routine in these activities. The only way they can be checked is through strict monitoring of assets of connected people. Similar loots are going on in excise and taxation, income tax, food subsidy, midday meal scheme. Imagine how difficult it is to keep a check on millions of people involved in this loot. Even if we increase our enforcement staff and judiciary tenfolds we may end up by reducing this menace by a small 5-10%. Therefore some innovative and sincere methodology should be thought of in fighting this demon.
      The only viable solution seems to be through linking of all immovable and movable assets with UID number. These assets will include all commercial and residential property, all agricultural land, gold and jewellery, all vehicles ( commercial and private ), all luxury items, DMat accounts, investments in commodities, banks and mutual funds etc. etc.. Along with these linkages the following steps are also a must.
      • Government should have the power to acquire about 5-10% of real estate deals in the secondary market by paying 10% premium to the declared value of the deal.
      • Practice of power of attorney in respect of real estate should be abolished.
      Once the investment avenues of ill gotten money are plugged, we can see a ray of hope in improving the living standards of Indian masses at a much faster rate.

      Corruption and Black Money:Our Sensitivities and Priorities

      A few days back when I wrote in my blog on' Corruption and Black Money-Control through good governance' that we should declare a war on corruption and black money, I thought that it was a fairly easy job for no political party will have any objection as it can in no way clash with their political, economic and social agenda. To day after hearing the debates going on in media over the much talked about Lok Pal Bill (a small but significant step in our war on corruption and black money) in the light of fast unto death by Gandhian Anna Hazare for bringing the same into effect by the present government, one gets an impression that any step towards fighting the menace of corruption and black money affects definitely affects the personal agenda of a vast majority of our politicians. So much so the fast unto death by Anna Hazare for a cause which is of prime importance to the country, to each and every individual of this country and to the hapless Aam Aadmi who believes that his lot will improve in the hands of these leaders was described as pressure tactics by the spokesperson of Congress party .I wonder what these guys think of the numerous fasts undertaken by the Father of the Nation for social and political issues?
      Anyway the present day politician should not be ashamed of the fact that he could do nothing on this issue of prime importance to 1.2 billion people in whose service he is  dedicating his life. After all his predecessors from various governments and parties also tried on eight different occasions during the last forty two years and failed to achieve anything concrete on this front. Still they are great patriots who had dedicated their lives to the service of the nation.
      None of the political parties or any individual leader can afford to deny that proper legislation is required to  end corruption and have an Anti Corruption Bill in place. If this is so why are we looking for some arguments or excuses for not doing the job in right earnest. If the government is serious and sincere it can formulate a draft in a few days with or without the inputs from civil society and if it does not respond in the right earnest the names of our esteemed leaders from all parties will be remembered with utter disdain. Is it too much to expect from Dr Manmohan Singh, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mr LK Advani, Mr Nitin Gadkari ,Mr Prakash Karat and all the esteemed leaders of regional parties that they  rise above petty politics and for once act as if they are part of a national government in formulating an effective anti corruption bill. This is a God sent opportunity for them to get their names in golden letters in the history of India.
      The game going on in taking the first small step towards India's war on corruption is quite clear to anyone with a bit of intelligence. First keep on dillydallying over the formulation of a committee on one pretext or the other, then over the draft to be taken up for legislation and finally tell the nation that political consensus could not be arrived at.In short resort to the age old bureaucratic dictum " Look busy, sincere and forthcoming and do nothing". After all we have an intelligent bunch of people sitting at the top and cannot expect them to cut their own hands with their actions.

      Friday, April 1, 2011

      Energy Security:Renewable Energy Sources-The Right Perspective

      Electricity from renewable sources i.e. hydel, wind and solar is certainly the best option for any country on this globe, particularly for India as it has availability of vast quantum of these resources. The basic advantage in the use of these resources can be summed up as:
      • All three are eternal sources of energy
      • Clean pollution free energy generation
      • No consumable costs and saves scarce fossil fuel and carbon reserves
      • Least environment effect on global warming
      • Very low on logistics cost
      The overall hydro, wind and solar power  potential available in  the country is of  the order of  8-10 lakh mw
      ( Considering only Thar desert area for solar power ). The same can grow considerably if we decide to make use of all our rail, road and canal corridors. India is actively considering Mega Manufacturing Hubs each of which will be spread over 2000 hectares covering an area of about 20 sq.kms. and a periphery of about 20 kms. Consider a 100 metre wide integrated rail / road corridor on this periphery which gives us an area of 2 sq. km carrying a solar power potential of 40 mw .
      The hype created about nuclear energy as the only viable source to give India its energy security in future is a result of some vested interests and compulsions on the part of government and lack of professional integrity on the part of concerned technocrats. We are excellent scientists and technologists but when it comes to choosing between two or more available alternates we never have the courage and professional uprightness to go in for the best solution. In such matters petty personal gains and desire to further one's own empire and clout in the technical community take the front seat.
      American and West European interest in selling nuclear power technology is quite understandable, for they will like to earn maximum from the technologies wherein billions of dollars have been spent and invested in research and infrastructure for commercial exploitation. They couldn't care less if these technologies are redundant today or better and safe alternates are available till such time they can force sell them to some one. We are planning to have about 20000 mw of nuclear power in the coming years. The costs involved are a mind boggling sum of Rs 2.4*10^12 i.e. 0.240 million crores as per 1995 prices. Through the same money, science, technology and relevant manufacturing facilities for wind and solar power generation will be developed and optimised and sold off to countries like us after 10-15 years. Incidentally setting up of a nuclear power plant involves a time period of more than 10 years.
      The nuclear danger in Japan resulting out of earthquake and tsunami are a big wake up call  for everyone and let us respond in the same way as any well meaning citizen of a country will respond. Let us have Energy Security in a National Mission Mode. We have done wonders in the field of television penetration, mobile telephony, missile programme and Delhi Metro through such approach. We are working on UID project and let us have a similar approach to Energy Security problem also. These last two measures can in fact revolutionise the fate of our teeming millions in a decade