Loss of energy

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

IN TOO pat a manner, some critics have already seen in us secretary of energy Hazel O'Leary's wide-ranging talks with her counterpart Indian ministers, evidence of a forced transfer of exorbitant energy and environment technologies, for which this country would have to, proverbially, pay through the nose. The criticism is entirely out of place and only provides room for Indian negotiators to run away with their affected euphoria of having obtained clean, state-of-the-art energy systems.

The real problem is probably different. Though the nuts and bolts of the deals struck are yet to be made public, there is sufficient indication that O'Leary may have sold little. Other than a few contracts between private firms of the 2 countries, the agreements were limited largely to statements of intent between the governments. And, as soon as she returned to Washington, O'Leary's winning smile gave way to a frustration: that the Indians did not know what they wanted.

There are many pointers that her opinion is true. Ministers and officials of the Union ministeries of power, non-conventional energy sources, coal, oil and natural gas and, environment and forests suddenly acquired a vocabulary of terrific-sounding scientific terms. But none of them could detail, publicly or to the Americans, India's requirements for ample and environmentally safe energy production. Even getting an Indian negotiator to talk in figures and facts of the improvements that the American wares would bring to the country's behemoth energy sector remained hopeless exertion.

The talks were reduced to an US assessment of Indian requirements and the promise of magnificent solutions -- if this country could afford it. No wonder the self-congratulatory statements of the Indian negotiators -- mainly for public consumption -- reflected the joy of kids in a toy store.

There are signs that this benign befuddledness extended also to other areas where the US is prepared for tough talks. O'Leary made it clear that all the mutual commitments reached by the two countries could be put to work only if the long proposed Indo-us agreement on scientific and technological collaboration is expedited. Ironically, this has been stalled by us demands for the inclusion of intellectual property guarantees to its satisfaction.

On the other hand, the Indian government is yet to make up its mind on what it has to offer. Clearly, lucidity must push aside this mentality if India wants to negotiate, resist or simply do plain business with the US in any field.

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