M A I N   N E W S

No commitment on future N-tests: PM
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 23
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today categorically told the Lok Sabha that India was not willing to give any commitment on future nuclear tests. He also dismissed the concern raised by certain BJP members that the Indian separation plan was going to cost a whopping $ 40 billion.

The 150-minute-long debate in the Lower House on the Indo-US deal, though lacklustre as compared to the marathon eight-hour discussion in the Rajya Sabha last week, raised some new concerns. Mr B.C. Khanduri (BJP) said the UPA Government’s thrust on nuclear energy was going to cost $ 100 billion — $ 40 billion for implementing the separation plan and $ 60 billion for production.

The Prime Minister, during his 40-minute reply, wondered from where Mr Khanduri got this figure. “The 40 billion dollar figure is totally misleading. There will be no additional, unacceptable financial burden because of the separation plan,” he said.

Mr Khanduri’s senior party colleague and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mr Vijay Kumar Malhotra got up at this stage and repeatedly interrupted the Prime Minister, demanding to know what was the cost of the separation plan. The Prime Minister said he could not divulge this now but assured that this could be taken care by the normal programmes of the Department of Atomic Energy.

The Prime Minister said India had got a very good deal — “a deal which I am told was the ambition of the previous government which could not secure it.” He urged the Opposition to take a unified position on important matters of the nation and said it was still not too late to work for broad national consensus on such issues.

The Prime Minister made the following important points with regard to the Indo-US civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement:

  • India is not willing to give any commitment on future nuclear tests and if India’s national security considerations were to warrant a nuclear test “we will of course have the sovereign right to protect our national interest”.
  • India is not prepared to have a bilateral Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) with the US.
  • There will be no capping of India’s strategic programme. India is free to build new reactors and classify them as civilian or military as per the national interests.
  • The IAEA safeguards will be India-centric because of India’s unique position, because India does not fall in non-nuclear weapon country category.
  • India will be negotiating the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) “but there is no question of accepting any limits on fissile material”.
  • India’s fast-breeder programme will be kept totally out of intrusive international inspections and nothing will be done to impinge on the programme’s autonomy.

The Prime Minister gave his solemn assurance to the House that his government will do nothing to hurt national interests. “There is nothing in this nuclear deal which may hurt the strategic autonomy with regard to nuclear weapons programme of the country.”

Speakers like Mr Khanduri, Mr Vijendra Kumar (both BJP), Mr Suresh Prabhu (Shiv Sena) Mr Devendra Pratap Yadav (RJD) and Mr Basudev Acharya (CPM) voiced their concerns on certain areas of the nuclear deal. Mr Acharya and Mr Khanduri wondered whether it was a sane approach to pump huge amounts of money into nuclear power when the government could generate much more electricity in much less price by tapping hydel, solar and wind sources of power generation.

Mr Khanduri said India could hope to generate only 20,000 MW of power from nuclear means by year 2020 at huge costs and advocated that the energy security bogey should not be taken too far.

The Prime Minister disagreed with this assessment and said it was incumbent upon the government to widen its options. He said his government was seeking to enlarge its energy mix. He said hydel power generation was not without problems of displacement of huge populations which entailed arduous exercises like relief and rehabilitation. Besides, many hydel power potential sites were in seismic zones.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, in his intervention, said it was the fourth debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal in the Lower House which demonstrated the level of seriousness the government attached to Parliament.

He, however, scored a political point by saying that the nation did not have the same luxury when the then External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh had elaborate talks with top State Department official Strobe Talbott and India was kept in the dark.





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