Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A PRESPECTIVE ON NUCLEAR POWER IN INDIA

“It sits in the water like a beautiful nymph...and so with your permission I would like to name it Apsara...the celestial nymph associated with water...”..

These were the words with which Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru addressed the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) scientists when he arrived to inaugurate the first nuclear reactor in India on August 4; 1956.It was called Apsara because it was a swimming pool based reactor. Apsara was not only the first nuclear reactor in India but also in Asia. It heralded the arrival of India's nuclear energy programme. BARC director Dr. Homi Bhabha himself conceptualised the design of the reactor and the reactor was built entirely by Indian engineers in a record time of about 15 months. The inauguration of Apsara triggered hopes of optimism in the country.

For a nation that was recently independent and had critical energy issues nuclear power seemed to the answer to all problems. It was billed as environment friendly and a technological boon. The steps towards the nuclear age had started right after independence itself when in 1948 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was set up, with Homi Bhabha as the chairman. Later on the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was created under the Office of the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Initially the AEC and DAE received international cooperation, and by 1963 India had two research reactors and four nuclear power reactors. India stood steadfast in its promise of peaceful nuclear energy uses and saw nuclear energy only as a means to solving the energy crisis.

However by the 1970’s India had been through three wars and the Cold War era had just started. Thus India too believed that a slight reorientation in its nuclear policies was required and on May 18, 1974 India performed a 15 kt Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE).The international community viewed this as breach of trust of its commitment towards India and issued sanctions against it. Even then India continued to develop its nuclear programme and exploded both fission and fusion devices on May 11 and 13, 1998.

This was viewed by the international community as a serious threat to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Non Proliferation Treaty. ; both deemed essential to stop the spread of nuclear weapons India’s own defence for non sign is that it feels that the these treaties favoring nuclear states and is prepared to sign if genuine nuclear disarmament is included as an integral part of these treaties. Since then however India has been able to pursue a peaceful nuclear doctrine.

In 2008 India signed a civilian nuclear agreement with USA. This heralded a new era in Indian nuclear power history. Since then India has entered into multiple agreements with various countries of the world for sharing of nuclear technology. These agreements solved India’s long standing problem of Uranium reserves for nuclear fuel.

As of 2010, twenty nuclear power reactors produce 4,780.00 MW (2.9% of total installed base) 5 other are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 3,900 MW. India’s nuclear power industry is undergoing rapid expansion with plans to increase nuclear power output to 63,000 MW by 2032. India being a member of IAEA has agreements with several countries on various aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. India stands 9th in the world in terms of number of operational nuclear power reactors. In terms of nuclear reactor technology too India has seen significant progress. The original reactors were PHWR(pressurized Heavy water Breeder Reactors).Now conscious efforts are being made into developing LWR(Light Water Reactors) and FBR(Fast Breeder Reactors ) which would ensure even greater efficiency. In October 2010 India’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA became operational, with the Indian Government confirming that 14 reactors will be put under the India Specific Safeguards Agreement by 2014.Thus India has seen a progress in terms of generation and use of nuclear power.

However these factors need to be deconstructed effectively. If it is done then we will arrive at the conclusions that nuclear power has not been much of a success in India as it was originally envisioned. The nuclear power sector in India has suffered from myriad problems.

First and foremost the performance of the completed reactors has not been very good. Their actual output as compared to their possible maximum output is about the same as for coal-fired and hydroelectric power stations in India (around 45%). The high capital costs of nuclear reactors dictate that they must be run at something like 70 percent or more of maximum output in order to be economic. This failure to achieve a better output than other power stations in India indicates one reason why nuclear reactors have not, in actuality, been economic producers of electricity.
 
Secondly India has never been able to substantiate a proper fuel reserve for itself. There has been  major effort in uranium exploration  which have absorbed huge finances to India has still not located, after thirty years, any reserves of good quality uranium. Although new major reserves have been located in Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya yet the environmental concerns have put a question mark on these projects as well. With the signing of the civilian nuclear programs nuclear fuel could be obtained from other countries. However for a country to be self sufficient in power a really sizeable nuclear power programme could not be fuelled by the limited quantity of assured reserves. 

Thirdly the development of technology in this sector has not produced the desired results. Although post Independence a major part of the national exchequer has been devoted to the research in this sector yet problems still persist in this sector. The Indian fuel enrichment plan has still not been able to produce the kind of desired results. Twenty to twenty-five per cent of the country's research and development spending has gone on nuclear research. Nevertheless, nuclear power is not yet a major energy source in India, and self-reliance has not yet been achieved.

Fourthly when the huge operating costs are taken into account and a detailed economic analysis of India's power reactors is done then it is seen that nuclear electricity generation has no advantage over hydro or coal-fired generation. Indeed the latter two are considerably cheaper unless the electricity must be transmitted 800 km or more. Thus the logic of cheaper technology itself has been nullified.

The Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan rings as the fifth and the most dangerous problem with a nuclear power programme. It is the operational risk that runs in any nuclear programme. The Chernobyl disaster was pegged at trillions of dollars while scientists are still calculating the damage of the Fukushima disasters in Japan. Human cost of nuclear disaster is massive. Proponents of nuclear energy argue that Japan was in a seismic zone and it was a environmental disaster and not a technical failure. However such proponents seem to ignore the fact that India too sits on a high seismic belt. India too has been affected by massive earthquakes (e.g. Bhuj), Tsunami disasters (Tamil Nadu) among disasters. Natural disasters which pose the biggest threat to nuclear plants cannot be stopped or mitigated. Since its inception India too has seen 6 small nuclear disasters with total losses pegged at 830 million dollars with the latest which occurred in 2002 in the Kalapappam nuclear reactor in Tamil Nadu. These incidents have been on smaller scale but they indicate that a major disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima is only one mishap away. Thus the human and economic costs of operating a nuclear plant are huge.

It is in this aspect that India has to move away from this regime to a new alternative regime which is based on other sources of power. It is pertinent that one motivation behind India's nuclear power programme has been the desire to stay abreast of modern developments in science and technology. Yet this can surely be achieved by spreading funding across a number of different scientific areas and disciplines and new alternative technologies for power generation. These include:

Solar Energy: Solar energy certainly has great potential in India. For about 75 percent of the year sunshine throughout the day is assured for most of the country. During the monsoon, cloud cover makes direct sunlight an unreliable source but the diffuse sunlight available may well be sufficiently powerful to be worth using. Organizations like TERI should strengthen their solar energy programmes for power generation. The recent National Solar Power Plan which has been envisaged in India is a welcome step in this regard. 

Biogas: Since ancient times biogas has been used as a form of fuel in India in the form of cow dungs. However barring a few concentrated attempts efforts have rarely been made to produce this on a larger scale. In comparison to India its neighbours China have achieved rapid progress in this field. Instead of the traditional cow dung that is used in India the Chinese use pig dung in their biogas plant.

Pig manure seems to be the more suitable material for biogas production, which might explain why the Chinese programme is much bigger than the Indian. Thus some kind of biochemical breakthrough in methods of handling source material for Indian biogas plants might be necessary to bring the Indian programme up to the size of the Chinese. When biogas production has ceased, a nitrogen-rich material is left behind. This is suitable for use as a fertiliser. Since the manufacture of artificial fertilizers is an energy-intensive activity, this 'by-product' of biogas production may represent a substantial way of saving energy. 

Hydropower: India has been blessed with large number of rivers most of which are perennial in nature. These rivers provide a chance for hydel energy generated from water turbines. The North Eastern part of India and the northern part of India have ample rivers which can act as hydel source. Small to medium size dams can be built over these rivers and can be linked to a grid which can ensure continues power generation and availability. Already hydel power is a major component of electricity in India however efforts must be made to resolve the environmental concerns associated with it as well and then move towards establishing a national hydel power grid.

Tidal power: India holds a large coastline of 7600 kms. This acts as a vast unused reserve of the tidal energy that the ocean offers. The company Atlantis Resources is to install a 50MW tidal farm in the Gulf of Kutch on India's west coast, with construction starting early in 2012.This will be the first tidal power project in India and Asia. Further research needs to be taken up in this regard.

Apart from these other sources of energy like shale gas, wind energy, geothermal energy, hot springs too must be developed in India. The Indian Government has taken some major steps in this regard however further impetus is expected in these fields.

Apart from these in the traditional power alternatives some changes must be made in terms of policymaking. Fossil fuels like coal, petroleum etc will not last forever. Hence conspicuous efforts must be made to ensure sustained and judicious use of these available resources. These include measures of upgrading technology to prevent disasters like oil spilling (which wastes a lot of oil), developing better refined oil transportation facilities (since a large part of refined oil is very often wasted in the largely unorganized network) etc.

Apart from this the most important change must be in the mindsets of people. The citizens must be made aware of suitable power consumption which would ensure a strong power delivery in the longer run. People must be made aware of innovative concepts like Green housing.

In the long run it will take a sustained government –public partnership to ensure that a alternative to nuclear power is viable and workable. The image of the dead city of Chernobyl even after 25 years of its occurance still haunts the world. Efforts must be made at any cost to avoid such dangers and the best way out lies in saying no to nuclear power.

Monday, April 25, 2011

FAIR COMPETITION: THE ENGINE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

"When civilization [population] increases, the available labor again increases. In turn, luxury again increases in correspondence with the increasing profit, and the customs and needs of luxury increase. Crafts are created to obtain luxury products. The value realized from them increases, and, as a result, profits are again multiplied in the town. Production there is thriving even more than before. And so it goes with the second and third increase. All the additional labor serves luxury and wealth, in contrast to the original labor that served the necessity of life.”

It was in 1377, that the Arabian economic thinker Ibn Khaldun provided this definition of economic growth and development in his seminal work Muqaddimah (known as Prolegomena in the Western world).Since then, modern economics has undergone a sea change in terms of defining growth development and other virtues but the basic ideal of economic development -its purpose and intent- has always been the same.

This concept of economic development has undergone a major transformation since the early parts of the starting of modern era. The age of new discovery, signaled the arrival of the mercantilist era. In this age economic development was defined as the net aggregate increase in the item that was under circulation e.g. gold and silver. This was called the bullionist theory. The world saw a scamper for gold and other resources which could create wealth in gold. Trade was the source by which nations could increase wealth and thus ensure growth. The European nations began to search new markets in Asia, Africa and America. This rise in trade and scamper for new markets was coupled with the evolvement of the factory system in the 18th century.

It was in opposition to this bullionist theory that the modern classical theory of economic development was promulgated by thinkers like Adam Smith. This was centered on the debate of what would actually constitute the true measure of growth, the trade nations indulged in or the manufacturing process. The neoclassical theory of economic development which followed the classical model examined growth and development as a series of complex equations which showed the relationship between labor-time, capital goods, output, and investment. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s this theory was further refined by the by economists who worked to "endogenize" technology in the 1980s. 

They developed the endogenous growth theory that includes a mathematical explanation of technological advancement. This model also incorporated a new concept of human capital, the skills and knowledge that make workers productive. Unlike physical capital, human capital has increasing rates of return. Therefore, overall there are constant returns to capital, and economies never reach a steady state. Growth does not slow as capital accumulates, but the rate of growth depends on the types of capital a country invests in. Research done in this area had focused on what increases human capital (e.g. education) or technological change.

And in 1998 Amartya Sen shot into focus with his pathbreaking concept of welfare economics which reshaped the post-modern definition of economic development. Moving away from the traditional definition of trade and surplus economic development was now defined as a holistic concept. It was a revolutionary contribution to development economics and social indicators. Sen’s theory centered on the concept of 'capability' developed in his article "Equality of What." He argued that governments and economies should be measured against the concrete capabilities of their citizens. This is because top-down development will always trump human rights as long as the definition of terms remains in doubt (is a 'right' something that must be provided or something that simply cannot be taken away?). Thus the most important parameter of economic development was the freedom of choices. Any economy is said to achieve success when it can offer its citizens opportunities and choices. These choices can range from the most basic of needs to infrastructure.

It was from this point onwards that the post modern theory of economic development has undergone a major transformation. Economic development is now not merely measured in terms of GDP but as combination of wide range of factors. It takes into account the infrastructure available, the availability of food, the availability of basic amenities like health facilities, sanitation facilities etc. And this is linked to the surplus generated in trade and other activities which is used back to improve the human infrastructure. Thus growth has been interlinked with human welfare. Economic growth has ceased to be the prerogative of a country but the “right” of its citizens. And it is in this context that the term “fair competition” as a engines for economic development, must be understood and judged.

Fair Competition is the ideal (utilitarian or welfare) that liberalism tells us to strive toward, as a stable way to enhance any reflective dynamical system's informational state. Competition in itself is a very dynamic concept with no unique definition, except what is understood in common terms in the context of market and trade. In a way of defining competition can be stated to be something which is anti-theoretical to the concept of monopoly. Competition germinates a fairness of practices which encourages maximum growth including human development while unfair competition gives rise to ills that affect the health of economy in the long run.

Historically colonization has been the most apt example while defining the ills of an unfair competitive practice in economy. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans all built colonies in antiquity. Modern colonialism started with the Age of Discovery. Portugal and Spain discovered new lands across the oceans and built trading posts. For some people, it is this building of colonies across an ocean that differentiates colonialism from other types of expansionism. Soon Britain France and the Dutch joined this race and left everyone else behind.

These nations used a series of political economic and administrative tools in order to maintain supremacy in their colonies. A cursory glance at India’s economic development in the 19th century would give a fair idea of the ills of colonization. The per-capita income of India was drastically reduced after the East India Company took control of the Indian polity and economy. Authors like Dadabhai Naroji and RC Dutt argued that the colonial ruler drained India of its wealth. It was the colonial policies which lead to the progressive decline and ruin of Indian agriculture and local industries. This was the result of a deliberate policy to keep out Indian industries. Famines became a regular feature. Indian economy in every sense was ruined. This is a historical testimony as to how unfair competition or monopoly results in the destruction of an economy.

In recent times this unfair competition has emerged in many other forms like cartelisation. Cartelization has emerged as one of the most frequently committed crimes in today’s economic era. The latest example is the cartelisation in the cement sector. While this is not something new for this sector, what was surprising was the timing in 2009. In 2009 construction activity was going down, yet the cement manufacturers were able to raise their prices collectively. Whereas in steel, another important input in construction, a similar trend is not visible. Cement prices were been increased four times between January and November 2009. Matters came to such a head that the Builders Association of India had to issue press releases and notifications in financial dailies saying that the cartelisation by cement manufacturers was the root cause for the frequent price hikes.

Towards the end of 2007, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) had stated that the cement industry audits associations have been colluding for over 17 years. The Tamil Nadu Government even threatened to take over the sector. When the government allowed imports from Pakistan, the cement lobby raised the issue of Pakistani factories not having ISI license. Such was the extent of collusion in the cement industry. In view of the phenomenal rise in cement prices the construction industry was hit even more.

Another sector where the carteslisation hit the overall economy was the cartelisation in the tyre industry. When the truckers’ strike hit the nation in late 2008, the Road Transport Ministry issued half-page advertisements telling the public as to how wrong the strike was. One grouse of the All India Motor Transport Congress was the high prices of tyres due to cartelisation. In the advertisement, the Ministry had advised the truckers to approach the MRTP Commission with evidence to deal with the collusive behavior. This nationwide strike had adversely affected the movement of food and other items. Thus inflationary curve saw a rapid upward trend which hit the economy severely. Apart from these other unfair business practices include

  •    Conspiring to Fix Market Prices-Discussing prices with competitors, even if it affects a small marketplace, may be construed as a violation of antitrust law.
  •    Price Discrimination-Using dominant industry power to secure favorable product prices from buyers, even though such prices are unavailable to weaker companies in the same industry, is generally a violation of antitrust laws.
  •    Conspiring to Boycott -Conversations with other businesses regarding the potential boycott of another competitor or supplier may violate antitrust law.
  •    Conspiring to Allocate Markets or Customers -Agreements between competitors to divide up customers, territories or markets are illegal. This provision applies even when the competitors do not dominate the particular market or industry.
Whenever such events occur economic growth is stunted in the long run. It is for these reasons fair competition is a necessary and a sufficient condition for acting as an agent of economic growth. There is empirical evidence of the benefits of a fair competition regime vis-á-vis economic development, greater efficiency in international trade and consumer welfare listed in a report (UNCTAD1997). The evidence, albeit referring to experiences of developed countries, indicated substantial benefits from the strengthening of the application of competition policy principles in terms of "greater production, allocative and dynamic efficiency, welfare and growth."


 It further concluded that the consumer and producer welfare and economic growth and competitiveness in international trade have all flowed out of competition policies, deregulation and surveillance over Restrictive Business and Trade Practices. Noting that competition rewards good performance, encourages entrepreneurial activity, catalyses entry of new firms, promotes greater efficiency on the part of enterprises, reduces cost of production, improves competitiveness of enterprises and sanctions poor performance by producers, the empirical evidence in the report suggests that competition ensures product quality, cheaper prices and passing on of cost savings to consumers. The report also observed that competition promotes two types of efficiencies, namely, static efficiency (optimum utilisation of existing resources at least cost) and dynamic efficiency (optimal introduction of new products, more efficient production processes and superior organizational structures over time) (UNCTAD, 1997). Analyzing the empirical evidence, the UNCTAD report had the following to say:


In the Netherlands, it has been calculated that the average annual consumer loss arising from collusive practices or restrictive regulations in several service sectors amounts to 4,330-5,430 million guilders (around $2.1-2.7 billion) (Hendrik P. van Dalen 1995). Data relating to the United States show that a bid rigging conspiracy for the sale of frozen seafood which was eventually prosecuted had an average mark-up over the competitive price over a one year period of 23 per cent (LukeM.Froeb et al. 1993) and the breakdown of price-fixing conspiracies in some industries has led to steep declines in manufacturing costs (Scherer and David Ross 1990). It is true that cartels may sometimes facilitate adjustment, but vigorous competition may sometime be as or more effective in forcing rationalisation of industries, particularly in larger markets (Scherer and David Ross 1990). An examination of some exempted rationalisation cartels in Germany (several different types of cartels are allowed under the German competition law, subject to certain conditions) found that they had promoted the viability of the producers in the industries concerned, but there was little evidence that they had contributed to productivity and efficiency improvements, while they had resulted in higher prices and less output (David B. Audretsch 1989).


Fair competition has a few major hallmarks which act as the engine to economic development. Fair competition induces sustainability in the economy. Sustainability can be explained in terms of carrying capacity. Sustainability ensures strength to the economy to carry forward its story of growth. For example let us take the example of the coal industry. Coal industries in India have rarely been able to produce quality coal vis-à-vis its availability. This is mainly due to the loopholes of the coal mining policy. Now in place of that a fair competitive process of coal which takes into concerns the environmental issues would result in better output of coal production. The draft policy of the new coal plan reflects this very spirit. A competitive spirit would ensure a fair and judicious use of resource which in turn will generate sustainability.


Fair competition induces innovation in the market. The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) was, for a century the dominant Canadian exchange. Suddenly in mid 90’s it found its outdated trading system was routinely overwhelmed by high volumes, resulting in frequent trading freezes. Canadian companies such as BlackBerry began listing on the New York Stock Exchange. New competitors entered the market. Pure Trading, a Toronto-based alternative market, launched a new exchange that offered an attractive fee structure and new trading technologies. An alliance of Canada’s largest banks announced another exchange. Most analysts believed three exchanges in Canada would be too much. Yet the competition was powerful, and today the TSE uses sophisticated trading software, with lower trading fees, and has recaptured lost liquidity. The Canadian stock market is far more efficient and user-friendly because of the 2000 competition.


Fair competition induces transparency in the market. Till the 1990’s Air India was the only flight airliner which was allowed to operate. It followed its own pricing regime which was not only high but also non transparent. With the advent of the open sky policy other airliners entered the fray. As soon as the other airlines entered the field the air travel prices came down drastically and the pricing regime became transparent. In the telecom sector too a similar pattern was observed and post- liberalization these two sectors have registered extraordinary growth.


 Fair competition also introduces efficiency in the economy as well. With the entry of private educational health institutes in large number in many areas health has seen a major improvement. This human development is an integral part of the economic development as well. Since a healthy demographic population will act as the actors of the economic development.


With the advent of globalisation the world economies have been truly linked. In 2008 when the subprime lending crisis hit the US economy the world economy shuddered. Similarly when major banks failed is the economic crisis in the US in 2009 the crisis spilled over to Europe and one by one the European nations tumbled into crisis. This shows the deep relation the world has in terms of economy. Thus WTO and other organizations stress on greater interactions which ensures fair competition.

Recently negotiations took place and various compromises were reached in the Cancun Meeting of the Conference of Parties on Climate Change. The establishment of the Green Fund under the Copenhagen agreement has brought forward a new sense of rapprochement in the field of environmental negotiations. These developments should not be seen in isolation. Such negotiations stand on the ideals of “historical and shared responsibility” which in other words gives a sense of fair competition among the nations, with such protocols acting as great levelers. Environment is an integral part of sustainable development which fuels the engine of economic development. This sense of global camaraderieship has also transcended into other avenues like shared technology, economic cooperation blocs, opening of trade barriers etc. The Kyoto Protocol, the TRIPS agreement, the relaxation of patent rights all point towards a greater interaction among world economies which would ensure fair competition for all.


Thus we can see that fair competition has emerged as a global standard to ensure development. Nations must too equip itself to ensure a practice of fair competition. Keeping this objective in mind the MRTP(Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act), was established to prevent economic power concentration in form of monopolistic unfair and restrictive trade practices, in order to avoid damage to economy. However the MRTP Act did not have much teeth. Thus the Competition Commission of India (CCI) was established as a successor to the MRTP Act.


Institutions like the CCI must ensure that markets work well for the consumers. The advantages to various sectors arising out of competition should percolate to consumers and businesses for level playing field, redress against anti-competitive practices, competitively priced inputs and optimal realization from sale of assets.


As the 21st century dawns on mankind, man has witnessed rapid development in all fields. These developments have made man’s life better and more comfortable than what it was a hundred years ago. With the passage of time growth and development has touched not only the rich but everyone else. Better infrastructure, better healthcare, better education, more opportunities for growth.21st century has truly been the story of mankind’s achievements. Yet man has a long way to go since even these developments have loopholes that have to be rectified. And this change can be brought forward by a sense of fair competition, a system where aspirations are fulfilled, where growth and opportunities would be prerogative of all. Fair competition truly acts as the engine of economic development. The hope that fair competition generates can be summarized in the following quote:


“In 20th century majority of the people believed that life would be better......The best part is that they know they can achieve it.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

LIBYA – a curious tale

Mohammed Bouazizi was a Tunisian youth. However his death was not ordinary. In his death he left a massive protest a flame that swept across the Middle East and Africa. Soon Egypt and Tunisia saw regime changes while calls for protest began to ring throughout the area including the regions as far as Bahrain and Syria. And then the flame of revolution spread to Libya.

However there is a fundamental difference in the character of these movements that have spawned across the Middle East. While in Egypt it has been largely a battle fought by the middle class, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia it has been the voice of the marginalized Sunni community against the elite Shias. And in Libya which is clearly torn between its tribal identities it’s a war between the eastern and western side. It was a civil war which descended into a conflict and the West once again jumped in without making proper assumptions.

And once again this conflict brought out the crude realities of the global equations. In today’s global politics the relations and even news are assessed in terms of strategic importance. So while civil war in Libya received news the deaths of hundreds in Bahrain shot dead by Saudi mercenaries as overlooked. The reason was simple while Gaddafi was an aberration in world politics Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were integral parts of the world order. Thus we saw a mismatch in terms of how news was presented.

The basis call for a change in governance in Libya started from the eastern town of Benghazi which has emerged as a focal point of rebel standing. Gaddafi retaliated by hitting the town of Misrata killing innocent civilians in the manner. Thus the crisis escalated into a full scale war and the provincial council in Benghazi called for international help. It was a humanitarian crisis they argued and thus the world leaders must have a sense of shared responsibility. The world leaders immediately reciprocated as they saw a chance of asserting their own rights in the Libyan region which was rich in oil. It is in the light of these statements that the context of their response must be understood:

EU: The EU region was the first to get involved in the Libyan war. It was France who not only recognised the government in Benghazi but also started deploying troops to help the Libyan rebels win the civil war. Analysts around the world have attributed this as a fact that a former colonial power France now wants to control the political strings in the African region so that it can reap economic dividends. This assessment is not entirely incorrect. Rarely have we heard the French be so vocal about such issues. This time around France showed much gusto in passing resolution 1970 which bars selling of arms to the Libyan nationals and resolution 1973 which imposed a no flying zone over Libya. Of course these brought fore technical difficulties since by the same resolution the rebels couldn’t be provided arms either. However such difficulties were not paid much attention while drafting over the resolution.

The activity of France can also be attributed to the Presendential elections round the corner.Sarkozy was widely criticised for playing no role in Tunisia or Egypt.Thus he wanted to improve his own report card in this regard .thsi also explains for France's recent actions in Ivory Coast.Also it has been a historical tendency of the French to make itself feel important and wanted in every major issue around the world.

Britain too joined France in this so called war Operation Enduring Dawn (NATO codename).The British society is itself fragmented in this issue with the Liberal Democrats in the government itself against it .However the Prime Minister seems to have prevailed for now. Britain too hopes to accomplish the same goals as France. It seeks to obtain economic gains by establishing political ties in this region.

This opportunity also offers a chance for the two countries to renew their ties in the African region. However other major powers including Germany has decided to abstain from this process. Germany the strongest European member has also not participated in the NATO exercise. This proves that the house of EU is divided itself. While battling financial insecurity in its own home EU cannot incur another Iraq 2.However France and Britain have chose to ignore these warnings.

US: For once the US was not too keen in taking up the leadership of this operation. This was apparent from the fact that initially US was reluctant to send forces to capture Libya or provide air support. But soon this drastically changed and US too joined in the liberation of Libyan people. While they have chosen to keep quite over the genocide of Bahrain and Sudan the US has gone to denounce the Libyan government and attack it. The silence over Sudan is understandable given the fact that the Chinese have large oil interests in south Sudan and the Americans do not want to offend the Chinese.

Thus in Libya, US see an opportunity of increasing oil supplies and installing a friendly government. Infact the US is already in talks with various African nations who can provide a safe passage to Gadaffi. This proves that the most important consideration is not the liberation of the Libyan people but a complete regime change. The US Tomahawks have killed civilians as well but these reports have been faithfully ignored.The role of AlJazeera too is in question since this time around this is a question of interest of the Americans. The Qatari owners of AlJazzera do not want to offend the Americans hence it has offered a much muted response this time around. Thus once again the prime interest of US is oil and a friendly regime in the name of liberating people from tyranny.

BRIC: Perhaps the most interesting role in the Libyan Crisis has been played by the BRIC Bloc. In abstaining together from the voting of the Security Council Resolution 1973 which ordered an attack in Libya the BRIC countries have once again displayed the sense of togetherness. However when dissected in a proper manner each of the abstentions emancipated from different reasons.

Russia and China abstained from the voting however they didn’t exercise their veto powers in UN either as they had done in the past. This is a signal of the multivector foreign policy that Moscow and Beijing seems to profess in recent times. By choosing to abstain from the voting they made symmetry with their foreign policy. However in not exercising their power to veto these countries reflect their growing relations with the West. Moscow and Beijing would prefer the company of Washington rather than the friendship of a North African dictator who is doomed anyway.

They abstained because they had their own unresolved issues centered on Georgia (for Russia) and Sudan (for China).If not for these issues then there was a major likelihood that China and Russia would have voted in favour .And it is also for the same reasons that these countries would not support a future war on Libya with ground troops, because then their own stand on international issues become dicey. This also brought to fore Mendeneev intention of closer ties with US which was reflected by the spat between Mendeneev and Putin over the Libyan crisis.

India and Brazil however abstained from the voting for entirely its won reasons. The abstention of Brazil is a reflection of its new foreign policy centered on Lula Di Silva ambitious plan to emerge as a global peacemaker. It was for this reason Brazil denounced the aggression in itself. The role of India is centered on its historical considerations and also growing relations in the BRIC forum itself. If India had voted for or against it would have upset the US as well as China or Russia in one way or the other. In choosing to abstain India chose the safest route of aligning itself with its global multivector foreign -policy.

Arab League: The 22 countries Arab League is dominated by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).The GCC is a well known ally of the US and hence the role of Arab League was nothing but a congruence of US policy in this regard. In choosing to denounce the Libyan government Saudi Arabia, Yemen and others choose to legitimize their own rule which is being threatened. In supporting the no fly zone the Arab League also declared that the Gaddafi regime had lost its legitimacy. The Arab League’s call provided crucial for the passage of the UN resolution. It impacted strongly on Russia and China who choose to abstain in the end.

In the navigation of diplomacy it was perhaps the tiny emirate of Qatar which played a major role. Qatar not only helped the passage of the resolution but also provided fighter jets. The Qataris already have a high profile owing to the large funding that it provides to the AlJazeera channel. Qatar is on a diplomatic high and has ambition to replace the Saudis as the next envoy for the West in the Middle East. Their recent actions in the Libyan drama can only be attributed to this. And in return Qatar was the first country to receive oil rights from the oil drilled by the rebel government in Benghazi.

African Union: This was perhaps the only organisation which wanted a proper solution for the Libyan crisis. The African leaders having brunt the colonial whip for the past many centuries were not ready to let an African country be the victim of western imperialism once more. It was with this objective that the AU sent a peace mission to Gadaffi where they wanted to arrive at a peaceful conclusion.

It was also their efforts that Gadaffi had announced a ceasefire which he himself violated in the later phase. While considering the historical necessity and unity the support from AU also stems from the fact that Gadaffi invested much time with the AU rather than with the Arab League. These include development works taken in the Sub Saharan regions. It was for these reasons that the African Union wanted to find a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. However their voice was tactically ignored by UN and the NATO while dealing with the Libyan crisis.

In the end as time pulls by the Libyan crisis sees no end. The best hope for the moment is to not turn it into another Iraq. This would not auger well for the world. Instead efforts must be made to end the military conflict fast and look for the transition to a smooth successful democratic government. In a ethnically driven country like Libya this will be a hard bargain and it is in this respect the AU will play a major role and its voice must be considered. A peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis is imperative and its possible only if the AU voices are taken abroad.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

WHAT ANNA HAZARE SPELLS FOR DEMOCRACY


On 5th April 2011 something unprecedented happened as a 73 old man clad in khaki white and Nehru cap sat down at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. He had a simple demand, earliest implementation of the LokPal bill and implementation of certain modalities in this regard. India watched as the movement grew from strength to strength. Naysayers and pessimists shaked their heads in disbelief as they quoted this movement as fruitless .However in the end the movement had its way. Now as the dust begins to settle a number of questions are being asked some questioning Anna Hazare’s motive itself.

However in arguing about these movements we have seen two opinions divided and rooted on the basis of two extremities. While one group was pro Anna and in a sense anti Government another group was anti Anna movement and used the personality of Anna Hazare to undermine the choices the people have made. However what was needed was a dispassionate and pragmatic view one which was far removed from the two extremities. And in taking up stand for the two extremities the celebrated authors and intellectuals missed out those points which were to be actual points of discussion.

The first point that needs to be discussed is why the LokPal bill. Many fear that this would become a superimposing agency one that will undermine the democratic structure. In the past 63 years of our independence India has witnessed massive levels of corruption .And the misdeeds of Emergency only reassured the need for a independent agency that would have even the PM under its preview. In recent times the functioning of the Gujarat SIT riots investigation, the Karnataka mining scheme, the 1000 crore scam in Assam, the spectrum band scandal have only reaffirmed the need for a strong LokPal. The idea of a LokPal stems from the Scandinavian concept of Ombudsman which was first institutionalised in Sweden in 1809.

Traditionally the ombudsman is appointed based on unanimity among all political parties supporting the proposal. The incumbent is an independent functionary and reports to the legislature. The Ombudsman can act both on the basis of complaints made by citizens, or suo moto. She/he can look into allegations of corruption as well as mal-administration. The punishments announced by the Ombudsmen vary from country to country. In some countries the Ombudsmen has the power to prosecute while in other it can order prosecution. The strength of the ombudsman lies in the publicity attached to the office, and the negative view that attaches itself to all that the office scrutinizes. In Sweden and Finland, ombudsmen can also supervise the courts. In other countries, their authority is only over the non-judicial public servants. In almost all the cases they deal with complaints relating to both corruption and mal-administration. Thus even in the countries itself, the institution of Ombusdmen has been moulded according to the needs of their own constitution. The same can be done for India constituting Ombudsmen which align with our own Constitutional structure while not becoming a super imposing structure.

The second point that is to be discussed whether the present structure of governance is enough to check corruption. The basic idea for this thought stems from the fact that if we strengthen the four estates of democracy then we will have a vibrant structure that discourages corruption. The answer to this utopian thought is a no in the present context. First of all the system of departmental enquiries by administrative officials against one another has rarely yielded results. Very often the officers have a departmental fraternity which makes it impossible for them to be prosecuted. In so many states so many IAS/IPS officers have pending cases against them and yet they continue to thrive because of departmental fraternity. On the legislative side the accountability of politicians in today’s context has become a farce. The politicians continue unabated corruption and when charged speak of peoples response. And very often that people’s response is in the form of a 5 year fair called election which they win again on the basis of false hopes promises coercion and money power.

The institution of Judiciary has proved to be the most credible till now in protecting individual rights. Yet the inherent problems in the judiciary right from the procedural complexities to the lack of awareness, act as denial of justice in the end. The recent charges of corruption against the High Court judges, the case of ‘uncle judges’ in Allahabad High Court which earned the rebuke of Supreme Court, have tarnished the judiciary image. The other existing devices of checking corruption have been less than successful. The Central Vigilance Commission is designed to inquire into allegations of corruption by administrative officials only. The role of CBI if anything can be best summed up by the repeated number of rebuke it has won from the Supreme Court. Hence there is a need for an agency like LokPal which can act for the wishes of the people and can only take the movement of strengthening democracy forward.

The third point that has been discussed by some sections is the timing of the movement. According to them the Anna Hazare movement was specifically timed after the world cup to attract the media attention. What they fail to understand is that every movement follows a strategy. Our Indian national freedom too followed a strategy many a times convenience of the people was out foremost while deciding the timing of a movement. Gandhiji knew when to start a movement and when to end it. Strategy is always the hallmark of a successful campaign. If the Anna Hazare campaign followed a particular strategy it was not merely to raise media bytes it was the choice to be made heard by the maximum number of people. If the idea is to garner public support for the right cause then timing is of utmost importance else the cause gets lost. And Anna Hazare is not a leader he is merely espousing what this country has been expressing for sometime now, apathy and anger. Otherwise nothing else could explain why the political leaders were hounded away from the meetings or professionals, doctors, engineers all took part in this movement.

The detractors of Anna Hazare have also questioned his motives. They have called him politically motivated and standing up for a meaningless cause. They have accused him of playing to a coterie which wants their own place in the seats of power. The NGO’s, who want to rise as partners in governance of this country. Yet all these fears are unfounded for the simple fact that people are getting aware. The detractors fail to realize that India is waking up. The people are becoming aware if there is any problem with the institution of LokPal in the future then we can be pretty sure that another Anna Hazare will rise to voice against those misdeeds that undermine the office of LokPal.

On the other side of the fence very few media organization has applauded the role of the government in this regard. True that the LokPal bill has been lying in apathy for many years however there were many constraints in implementing this bill. The pushing and pulling of the Bill in the Parliament killed the Bill every time. Yet once Anna Hazare raised the issue the government was quick to take action. Now many question the need for 5 days in reaching to a decision. However we must understand that it makes no sense if we agree to something which cannot be worked out later. In the present context the government had to carefully evaluate all options before making a move. And such decisions take time. The media which always wants 24*7 analysis or rather over-analysis of every issue ranted about 5 days, what they failed to comprehend that in those 5 days much of the time was spent in actual discussion of the proposed demands and how it spelt out in the future. In the end in accepting all the demands of Anna Hazare the government not only showed political maturity but a sense of understanding the prevalent public mood. That after 5 days they accepted all demands also augers well for the future course since every demand must have been discusses and assessed before being agreed upon. That increases the chance for a smooth passage in the monsoon session. Anna Hazare gave government that much needed push to see the bill making some actual progress. It was a victory for all the people and the government alike.

Yet in the end we must understand that democracy is a evolving process which challenges us everyday. Its meanings and connotations change every few years. As we further align ourselves with the global world we will experience other major changes in our democratic framework as well. While we must be vigilant as to how the LokPal operates history has taught us that we must also be ready for further changes in the future. A day will surely come when in India too we will demand for recalling of an elected candidate midway if he does not perform. Maybe that’s the reason why our Constitution is ‘rigid as well as flexible’ .Our forefathers while framing the constitution realized that the Constitution is very much like the population of the young nation. It grows and evolves, similar is the state of our Indian democracy –growing and evolving-and the institution of LokPal is merely a part of the evolving process.