By Prem Prakash
London: As a child , I remember when the British left India we had 24 hour good quality running water at home; electricity that never failed; well maintained roads and a police force that was keen on law and order. When I was leaving for England for the first time in 1952 my father warned me to be careful with drinking water in the UK as they do not have good water? Such was the pride of Indians in their infrastructure.
Today, the entire scene of infrastructure is in shambles rather has been in shambles now for a few decades. Such has been the neglect by the government. And, since the era of coalitions emerged at the centre, the governments are only keen on staying in power-howsoever it may impact upon the task of good governance - and that means ensuring that life and property of the citizens are safe; that they get essentials of life - water, electricity etc without interruption; that good education is available to the people and so on. I leave it to the reader to judge the performance of any government at the Centre or in the States on the basis of these basics.
There has been so much noise ever since the recent steep rise in oil prices, very rightly so because of the ensuing sudden inflation. However to blame oil for our miseries is perhaps not the right thing. Our problems started when for the first time after independence power shortages and power cuts began to hit the cities. Did the government get a wake up call in the wake of what began to happen? NO. The net result, those who could afford began buying small or big generators to get captive power for their homes or offices.
More than cheap oil, what we need today is electricity to run the tube wells on the farms; to light the homes, to run the factories; to run railways and if the need be to even run electric trolley buses of the kind that used to run in some of our cities during the last days of British era. The scenario on the electricity front all over India is grim to say the least. All our plans for future growth can come to a nought if this problem is not tackled.
In the wake of power shortage we have had all kinds of fancy ideas and schemes-wind power; solar power; renewable energy and many other ideas over which the nation has spent or should we say wasted vast sums of money in the last fifty years or so. If that amount had been spent on erecting new power plants, perhaps we would see some results.
If we are now short of coal, then at least we can run the power plants on gas. India has plentiful supply of gas in the wake of gas find by Reliance. If efforts are made more can be found, Thus irrespective of the fact whether we sign or not the Pakistan Iran India Gas arrangement, if there is determination on the part of the government India can manage with her own resources. What is lacking is the will on the part of the powers that be.
Nuclear power plants are perhaps going to be the most efficient and long term solution for power needs all over the world. Let this not come as a surprise to the readers when I write here that of all the nations even the oil rich Gulf countries have set into motion plans for erecting nuclear power plants for electricity. Why should they use their oil for power when they can sell it at a heavy price otherwise?
UAE alone is in the market with plans for a US $ 80.00bn nuclear project! UAE has estimated that it needs 40,000 MW of power by 2020 and wants to use nuclear power to meet its needs. Even as it has enough natural gas, it wants to rely on the nuclear plants to provide electricity for its people.
Compare this to the situation in India. The nuclear plants that we have are said to be running well below fifty percent of their capacity. The reason, because we do not have the feed stock-uranium to run these plants to their full capacity. When we do not have the feed stock, where is the question of being able to raise new nuclear plants? And plans of the government to get out of international nuclear sanctions have been derailed by the politics of a coalition government.
That being so; the government having failed to ensure supply of uranium for running the plants that already exist, it would be prudent to work out alternative strategy. Whether we like it or not we need electricity, unless of course at some future date we want to turn all of India into a land of darkness? The authorities and the people of India therefore need to realise that the government of the day has failed in meeting a major need of the people-electricity.
We must realise that if we can generate enough electricity to meet the needs of the people the demand for oil will see a steep fall. At the moment we use bulk of our imported oil for meeting the power needs of homes, farms, factories, railways and other transportation. Once we start using electricity for all this oil would then have marginal use. The vehicles of the future are going to be highly fuel efficient or run on batteries. Let us not fool ourselves-the oil prices are not going to come down and a fall of few dollars does not make any difference,
Are we therefore condemned to suffer this fatal situation or will some miracle happen? There seems to be no light at the end of this dark tunnel. The only thing we know is that the existing power plants whether running on coal, or on hydro or gas are all getting old and we do not have feed stock for running the nuclear plants. Will the politicians of India ever wake up to the needs of the people or remain involved in their own petty fights for staying in power? Will the government be able to take key decisions on electricity and implement them?