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  Asia-Pacific
Activists Oppose the Indo-US Nuclear Deal
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in press conference

"India-US nuclear deal has grave consequences for India's national security and sovereignty, for India's relations with its neighbours, for India's economy, for the health of its people and for the state of its environment" said Dr Sandeep Pandey, the Ramon Magsaysay Awardee (2002) who did his PhD in control theory applicable in missile technology from University of California, Berkeley in 1992 and is presently with Programme on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, in US. Dr Pandey was representing India's largest coalition of people's movements called NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements). Noted activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar is its National Coordinator.

"Indo-US nuclear deal will directly impact the rights and well-being of the people of India for generations to come. On the anniversary of Quit India call given in 1942 and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, we demand that the Government of India withdraw from the India-US nuclear deal and reject strategic partnership with the United States" said Arundhati Dhuru, another frontline people's activist, veteran Narmada Bachao Andolan activist and National Convener of NAPM.

In July 2005, President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a deal to exempt India from US laws and international rules that for almost three decades have sought to prevent states from using commercial imports of nuclear technology and fuel to aid their nuclear weapons ambitions. These rules were created because India secretly used nuclear materials and technology that it acquired for peaceful purposes to make a nuclear weapon. The deal is of profound importance since it allows for India to import nuclear fuel, reactors and other technologies, and will enable India to expand both its nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programme, emphasized Dr Pandey.

The US Congress took a year and half to discuss and approve the new US policy and change the existing US laws to enable nuclear commerce with India. In India, the government simply told parliament that it had made a deal with the United States, said Dr Pandey. Subsequently, the US and India have negotiated a '123 agreement,' a treaty that will cover nuclear cooperation between the two countries. But while this agreement will have to be approved by the US Congress, India's parliament will not be allowed a vote on it.

"NAPM believes that the people of India have been denied the right to debate the nuclear deal and the larger changes in foreign policy and other issues that it involves, and to express their opinion through their elected representatives. The nuclear agreement should not be accepted under these circumstances" stressed Dr Pandey.

Dr Sandeep Pandey stressed on the vital role of people's involvement. He had earlier taken out a 1500 km Global Peace March for nuclear disarmament from the Indian nuclear testing site Pokaran to Sarnath, a place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, beginning 11th May 1999 and ending on 6th August, 1999.

The United States sees the nuclear deal with India as part of a process of building a strategic relationship between the two countries. The US seeks to use India as a client state in its new confrontation with a rising China and to achieve other strategic goals, for example putting pressure on Iran.

NAPM activists said that India should not compromise its national sovereignty or its long standing tradition of an independent non-aligned foreign policy. The India-US strategic partnership and the nuclear deal in particular will escalate the nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India, and upset the India-Pakistan peace process. It will also create serious tensions between India and China, instead of helping improve relations. The deal with the US also threatens India's relations with Iran, which the US considers to be a rogue state. The US in particular is opposed to an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline that could improve political and economic relations among these three countries and provide relatively cheap, clean energy to India.

The US –India nuclear deal was first announced as part of a larger package of agreements that included a commitment to "deepen the bilateral economic relationship" between the US and India, and create in India an enhanced "investment climate" so that "opportunities for investment will increase." The US sees India as an increasingly important source of cheap labour and high profits for its corporations.

Privileging business interests means pursuing neo-liberal economic policies which favour the interests of Indian and US corporations. These policies include the creation of Special Economic Zones and other such measures that come at the cost of the poor. These policies have been followed for almost twenty years and have failed.

In 2006, India was ranked at number 126 among 177 nations according to the United Nations Human Development Index. India should follow policies that will promote a just and equitable social and economic development aimed at meeting the needs of India 's poor and disadvantaged.

The nuclear deal assumes that nuclear energy is an economic and safe way for producing electricity for India . Nuclear energy has failed in India and offers no solution for the future. After 60 years of public funding Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) produces less than 3% of India's electricity. For comparison, in less than a decade and without state support, wind energy now accounts for about 5% of India 's electricity capacity.

To escape its failures, the DAE plans to import large nuclear power plants and fuel. The US , France, Russia and Japan hope to profit from this. This pursuit of nuclear energy comes despite that fact that the cost of producing nuclear electricity in India is higher than non-nuclear alternatives and each reactor adds to the risk of a serious nuclear accident and worsens the problem of radioactive nuclear waste. The DAE's budget is ten times more than the budget for development of renewable energy technologies. India must reverse its priorities and invest more in wind, solar, biomass and micro hydel energy resources.

"The real energy challenge facing India is to meet the needs of the majority of Indians who still live in its villages" said Dr Sandeep Pandey. India needs an energy policy that works with the rural poor to develop and provide the small-scale, local, sustainable and affordable energy systems that they need. Renewable energy resources are better suited to fulfill this need.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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