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'Energy is our most crucial need'

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September 06, 2005

Indian Ambassador to the United States Ronendra Sen is one of the protagonists behind the recently signed nuclear cooperation deal between India and the USA. He is confident the United States Congress will approve the necessary changes to US non-proliferation laws to facilitate the transfer of civilian nuclear reactors to India.

Dr Singh visits Washington

Sen recently returned to Washington, DC from New Delhi, after consultations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] and senior Indian officials over strategies that Indians will jointly work with the Bush administration to convince Congress to approve the deal.

He spoke to rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa in an exclusive interview recently and hoped that Congress would pay heed to Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam's powerful Independence Day address about energy security.

Sen said President Kalam's core message about energy was timely not only because it ties in with national priorities but also because it is in sync with New Delhi's relations with Washington.

What would you consider President Kalam's message for the George W Bush [Images] administration and the Congressional leadership?

You heard the speech by President Kalam, a very thoughtful speech, and he concentrated on energy security from a long-term perspective.

I have been saying this for more than two-and-a-half decades, because if you look at our economy, energy is going to become the biggest problem for us in the 21st century. It will be connected with water; water will be another big problem, a very serious problem as is clear from our latest surveys on the scarcity of water and how it's going to affect our economy, not just our rural economy but even in terms of meeting the essential requirement of drinking water.

These problems are already looming over us. You have already seen isolated instances, like the one where a young 12-year-old boy was killed in a stampede for water, that too in New Delhi.

Another problem -- though it need not be a problem but the biggest opportunity -- is population, demographics.

How so?

In the coming two decades, you will see a tremendous release of creative forces. So many people will come of working age, and with the removal of gender discrimination, the women's workforce will add to our strength. However, without energy you will not be able to maintain a growth rate of 8 per cent plus, which is necessary to create employment.

Are you saying that India's present growth rate is not sustainable?

I am saying that 6 to 7 per cent is not good enough. We have to maintain 8 per cent plus -- and energy is the biggest constraint on us doing that. If you look at it from every point of view, energy is our single most crucial need; not just nuclear energy but all forms of energy, and that was why it was the focus of the prime minister's recent visit here.

So you believe that President Kalam's speech and its focus on energy was meant for a wider international audience, cognisant of the globalising economy and the factors that will govern it?

Absolutely. This is a very timely message. It ties in with our national priorities and it also ties in with the priorities in our relationship with the United States, because it is a problem that is going to confront the world and the United States is keenly aware of it.

India as a responsible nation can be no cause for concern in terms of non-proliferation. And also, another dimension to this globalising economy will be the environment of this very fragile earth that we inhabit.

India needs energy, and the US

To make the envisaged nuclear deal a reality, you will need to convince Congress to change existing law. How do you hope to achieve that?

By focusing on energy, on the need for energy security which is paramount not only to India's interests, but global interests -- because indiscriminate use of fossil fuels, which in any case we are running out of, is going to affect not only us but the world as a whole.

We have no choice. We have to go to nuclear energy, and that too in a massive manner. We should not think in terms of 10,000 megawatts, we should think in terms of 100,000 megawatts.

Will you look to mobilise the Indian American community to help win Congressional approval for the nuclear deal?

I prefer not to comment on that. As a diplomat, I would not want to interfere in the internal affairs of this country. But, I am sure that thinking people in the Congress, in the media, they will realise that it is not only in the interests of India and the United States, but it's in the larger global interest to have this (nuclear) cooperation between the two countries.

'The US has not fully delivered'

The prime minister, in all his speeches while in Washington, emphasised that India has an impeccable track record when it comes to non-proliferation. Do you believe the non-proliferation lobby here in the United States, which seems to be in over-drive on the issue of the India-US nuclear deal, is off base?

Absolutely. You have used the world lobby, and that is a true description of them. What they are saying does not bear scrutiny with regard to India. We are a unique country in this respect, and people have now realised that we are partners in non-proliferation; we should not be made a target.

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