Shaktichakra, the wheel of energies

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Posts Tagged ‘NGO

Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander

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Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, has accused non-government organisations and citizens’ groups in the country opposed to nuclear power as serving a foreign agenda. Singh said this recently referring to the steadfast opposition to the two new 1,000-MW nuclear reactors proposed to be built in Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu (southern India) with Russian help. The first of these reactors was to be commissioned in December 2011 while the second was to follow six months later. The continuing local protests since August 2011 – supported by dozens of NGOs and voluntary groups all over India – have halted the project.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Cartoon by Saurabh Singh / India Today

Singh’s vilification of the protesting NGOs did not come as part of a speech at home or an aside to the Indian media – it was part of an interview conducted with him by the US magazine Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is therefore worth understanding the deeper context in which Singh expressed his frustration over public opposition to his government’s dangerous nuclear power plans.

At the Indian Science Congress held in 2012 January, Singh talked about increasing the R&D budget in India from 1% of GDP to 2% by the end of the Twelfth Five Year Plan period (that is, 2017 March). In the USA, this is seen as being equivalent to a rise from US$ 3 billion last year to US $8 billion in 2017. He specifically mentioned the increasing contribution of private sector funding that will make this possible. The increase is meant to be used for the creation of elite research institutions (which will help bring expatriate Indian scientists home, mainly from the USA), to enrich science education, and equip smart new laboratories.

According to the journal Science, included in this push is South Asia’s first biosafety level–4 lab for handling the most dangerous pathogens. Over the next 5 years, an estimated US $1.2 billion of public money will be used to set up and run a new National Science and Engineering Research Board. Modelled upon the National Science Foundation of the USA, the board will fund competitive grants.

For all the fawning that has been done over the “scholar-prime minister” who “aims for inclusive development”, Singh’s government is anything but inclusive. During the second term of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, concerned Indian publics have demanded a universal entitlement to food under a food security act – and have been denied. They have demanded accountability from elected representatives – and are being denied. They have demanded local right to accept or reject industrial and urban development, which is part of Constitutional provisions and is an essential part of the village self-governance framework – and are being systematically denied all over India but especially in the mineral-rich regions. They have agitated against steadily rising food prices and fuel prices with some rural households having to spend over 65% of their income on food – and been rewarded for annual food inflation rates of over 10%.

Singh and his ministers and his government have at the same time permitted multinational retail food chains to begin business in India, over the considered opposition by tens of thousands of small traders. Singh and his ministers and his government have opened up the health, insurance and banking sectors to multinationals, guaranteeing thereby the demise of the public sector institutions which served this sector since India’s independence in 1947. The prime minister of India has complained about what he dreams is “foreign” interference in his nuclear plans – while his government’s consorting with foreign carpetbaggers of every description is wrecking the futures of millions of poor households in India.

And that is not all. In ‘Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India’ the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (distributed on 28 February 2012) has said:

“There is no foreign country or agency or money involved in this classic people’s struggle to defend our right to life and livelihood. Our fishermen, farmers, workers and women make small voluntary donations in cash and kind to sustain our simple Gandhian struggle. Our needs are very few and expenses much less. We only provide safe drinking water to the hunger strikers and visitors. People from all over Tamil Nadu (and sometimes from other parts of India) come on their own arranging their own transportation. For our own occasional travel, we hire local taxis. Instead of understanding the people’s genuine feelings and fulfilling our demands, the government has foisted serious cases of ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war on the Indian state’ on the leaders of our movement. There are as many as 180-200 cases on us. There have been police harassment, intelligence officers’ stalking, concocted news reports in the pro-government media, abuse of our family members, hate mail, death threats and even physical attack.”

[Read the full Open Letter here, also the read the Citizens’ Statement Against Prime Minister’s Malicious Comment on Koodankulam Struggle]

Atomic energy and nuclear power plants, sites, institutes and agencies in India. Source: Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Government of India

Here is a selection of press reports on the matter:

The Hindu – When Dr. Singh, who has a reputation for reticence on sensitive subjects, drops dark hints about a foreign hand, it is surely something that needs to be substantiated and, if necessary, followed up with action. As if to bolster his argument, the licences of three NGOs have been cancelled and the foreign remittances received by them are being investigated. Meanwhile, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, the organisation spearheading the anti-Kudankulam protests, has rejected the charge and demanded the Prime Minister substantiate his remarks. Adding to the mix, Jairam Ramesh has also clarified that his decision as Environment Minister in 2010 to place a moratorium on Bt Brinjal was not influenced by NGOs, but was based on objective factors.

However, the idea that NGOs with ‘foreign’ links are fuelling the protests seems more expedient than convincing. The charge is also, at some level, quite irrelevant. For what it’s worth, tens of thousands of ordinary Indians around Kudankulam, Jaitapur and other areas where reactors will be sited are apprehensive about what the placement of large nuclear installations in their backyard might mean for their health, environment and livelihood. The government needs to engage with them in a transparent and constructive manner and allay their fears with facts and arguments rather than innuendo and slander.

The Indian Express – In an interview to Science magazine, the Prime Minister had said that these NGOs do not appreciate India’s need to make use of high-technology like nuclear energy or genetically-engineered crops to move forward on its growth agenda. “You know, for example, what is happening in Koodankulam. The atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the United States, don’t appreciate our country to increase the energy supply,” Manmohan Singh said.

Asked whether nuclear energy had a role to play in India’s energy sector despite last year’s accident in Fukushima, Japan, he said, “Yes, where India is concerned, yes. The thinking segment of our population certainly is supportive of nuclear energy.” He blamed these NGOs for his government’s 2010 decision to put an indefinite hold on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal as well. “There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Cartoon by Amauri Alves / Toonpool

Business Standard – The Congress, in its communication to Minister for PMO V Narayanasamy, noted that it had been experiencing similar protests from various NGOs and political organisations. “Till now, with few exceptions, the reasons were generally observed to be for financial gains of the NGOs and either personal and financial benefits or pure political gains to the leaders and workers of the political organisations,” it said. “We have seen in the past protests against the Dabhol power project by the Shiv Sena and many other projects by various NGOs and political parties.” The party said now a new threat has emerged considering the anti-Kudankulam demonstrations, asking the Centre to take them seriously.

Hindustan Times – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed American and Scandivanian NGOs for fuelling protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, according to media reports. The Prime Minister has also blamed these NGOs for opposing genetically modified foods and the use of biotechnology to increase food production in the country.

India Today – The Prime Minister’s statement, in an interview to the prestigious journal Science, attributing anti-nuclear protests at Kudankulam to non-governmental organisations based in the United States, has stirred a familiar hornet’s nest, that of “the foreign hand”. The foreign hand of the CIA was of course frequently deployed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to deflect attention from domestic problems and, most memorably, to justify the imposition of the Emergency. It is deeply ironical coming from a Prime Minister whose government’s policies can be divided into two handy categories: those, such as employment guarantee and food security, that have the imprint of the Congress’s aam aadmi hand symbol; and those, such as its economic and nuclear policies, that bear the generous imprint of the foreign hand. It is amusing that the policy perspective of the US government should be so enthusiastically embraced, even as the views attributed to NGOs in that country are derisively dismissed. This has to be more than the common hypocrisy of everyday politics.

Clearly, what makes the government bristle is opposition to official initiatives. Popular protest provokes it to send its minions scurrying to sniff out a foreign conspiracy. The assumption is that any developmental project the government undertakes must be an unambiguous national good, and the support of its citizens for such projects must be the prime test of their loyalty.

The world according to philanthrocapitalism

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The philanthrocapitalist solution. If it doesn't deliver shareholder value, zap it.

The always eminently readable From Poverty To Power blog (by Duncan Green of Oxfam) has an entry about ‘philanthrocapitalsm‘. a neologism that sounds like a disastrous mash-up packaged as a convincing oxymoron. After all, philanthropy and capitalism are two quite different things, arn’t they. Yes and no, although my own view is, mostly yes.

Green writes: “I spoke earlier this week at an annual retreat of a very different kind of charity – ARK. Set up by a bunch of hedge fund managers (it prefers the term ‘alternative investment industry’), ARK raises a pile of money from glitzy gala dinners, and uses it to do what it calls ‘venture philanthropy‘. It focuses on education, child health (especially HIV and AIDS) and child protection and, like better known ‘philanthrocapitalists’ like Bill Gates, is fixated on measuring impact, hence the name, which stands for ‘absolute return for kids’.”

The usual approach, as Green says, is that when they enter the aid business, captains of industry and finance often act as if they regard all existing aid workers as utter imbeciles, who could easily achieve their small-time aims if only they adopted private sector practices.

Very true. For reasons that are obvious to us utter imbeciles but which mysteriously escape these captains of industry, this is staggering hubris. When they’re done savaging the NGOs and penniless do-gooders, and when they finally get to grips with some of the basic issues on the street (hunger, water, education, health) they face a learning curve that’s as good as vertical. It’s not the typical business school curve, and it’s infinitely more demanding. That’s when the captains (those of them who descended to the street) begin, dimly and fuzzily, to understand that the world is not made up of supply chains and shareholder value. The world’s ‘best’ companies are admired (in culturally bankrupt circles) for their skills at project management and prioritisation. The world’s ‘best’ companies have obviously never met the world’s best home-makers (women), who outnumber them by about a million to one.

When all you use is a mech-shovel, every problem looks like mud.

Put the captains and their bonus-driven crews into the development world, which has no clear bottom line of profit and loss, and they stumble around lost. Here, in the real world on the street with no name, process matters much more – it’s not just about the destination, but how you get there. Is it inclusive? Who’s shut out of the decision making? Development is about recognising the importance of power, and the way it is endlessly renegotiated and redistributed within society.

But still they try, and perhaps some get it. For those who do get it, they should steer clear of sanctimonious claptrap of the sort dished out by something called the Philanthrocapitalist Manifesto. Here’s a ripe sampling: “Thirty years of market reform has been good for Britain’s rich and our society has become more unequal. Yet populist bashing of the rich is a blind alley. Instead we need to rewrite the social contract between the rich and the rest. The winners of capitalism have a responsibility to the rest of society, not just to pay their taxes but to give back with their money and their skills. By doing so, they can be a dynamic, entrepreneurial source of innovation in our society and so build a more sustainable environment for wealth creation.”

In tones dripping with aspartame, this misbegotten manifesto continues: “The corporate world, too, is starting to realise that business can ‘do well by doing good’. The financial crisis has demonstrated that narrow-minded focus on short-term profits is bad for shareholders as well as society. Business needs to take a longer-term perspective on success, recognising that capitalism will only thrive if it sustains the society and the environment in which it operates. Before the crisis, some corporate leaders had started to lead the way towards a more responsible capitalism. After the crisis, the need is more pressing than ever.” Oh for heaven’s sake.

The philanthrocapitalist SUV, for getaways from tricky development questions.

One of the new purveyors of this oxymoron is Matthew Bishop, US business editor and New York bureau chief of The Economist, and co-author of a book named ‘Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World’. The Economist is a weekly compilation of jumbled opinion and pedantic misbelief masquerading as a journal, and survives only because of clever marketing and the abysmal ignorance of its corporate subscribers. My advice to you is, never waste money on a subscription, read it (borrow, don’t pay) only to understand what the more foolish captains are plotting next.

Why am I saying so? This starry-eyed account in one of the business degree shops will explain. “Now you see a company like Wal-Mart embracing green products, working with vast numbers of non-profits to change the whole product range that it is offering to the American people and other parts of the world where it operates. And this is, in turn, changing the supply chains, changing the companies all around the world, particularly in China, that it works with. It is by no means creating perfection, but it’s substantially different to what we saw before. And you hear more and more companies starting to explore this, starting to work with the non-profit world to actually improve their game.” That’s an author yodelling on about philanthrocapitalism. Wal-Mart and green?? Sad but true.