Amend Constitution to enable public debate

REDIFF NEWS (23 August 2007)

Amend Constitution to enable public debate
Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and Sandeep Pandey

Much has been said and written about the India-United States nuclear deal; beginning with the statement issued by many eminent nuclear scientists soon after the talks on the deal began between India and US governments. Public fora and people's organisations such as Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace called it anti-sovereignty.

Today, when it is seen as an issue of conflict between the UPA and its Left Front allies, we as representatives of people's movements must reiterate our stand, which is that the deal is not just anti-democratic but against peace, and against environmentally sustainable energy generation and self-reliant economic development.

The Left Front is questioning the fact that such an international deal with significant implications is imposed on the Indian people and Parliament, with no public debate and consultation in India. While US Congress took a year and a half to discuss the proposed change in the US laws, permitting nuclear commerce with India, the process in India has been totally undemocratic.

The deal is part of a successful attempt by the United States to build a strategic relationship with India, in confronting the rising capitalist challenge from China where India will be used as its client in the region. Directly or indirectly, the US will also enter the Indian subcontinent, to manage intra-regional, inter-country relations. This whole process is likely to escalate the arms race between Pakistan and India, sabotaging the India-Pakistan peace process. How can we ignore that fact the US sells arms to both India and Pakistan?

The agreement also facilitates a full-fledged international exchange of nuclear fuel and technology with insufficient caution and control. There will no doubt be a corporate rush to extract, export and misuse nuclear fuel and technology, and it will be very difficult to prevent misuse even for the arms trade. Highly superficial clauses don't instill any confidence against such a possibility.

However, our basic objections to this deal stem from our opposition to the production and use of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The irreversible dangers of radioactivity and its ongoing impact on health, water, and the environment are factors that are being summarily dismissed in an irresponsible manner. The whole cycle of nuclear production beginning with uranium mining, is fraught with catastrophic dangers, and as a nation we cannot use the decisions of another country as justification for our own. Places like Jaduguda in Jharkhand, Kota and Pokhran in Rajasthan, have already demonstrated the ongoing dangers of nuclear use to the common citizen.

We, in India, have inherited rich renewable sources of energy, which are environmentally benign and abundantly available. The solar, wind, and ocean waves along with human power need to be fully tapped and put to use with people's control. Appropriate technology, research and development for production of cheaper equipment and tools, need to be combined with just distribution, for the right priorities. There is no political will for this in the ruling establishment. Estimates show that India can generate far more energy through alternative, environmentally sound sources. The nuclear energy option should be put up for widespread public debate giving citizens a full opportunity to make an informed choice.

This deal, however, raises questions beyond nuclear energy, opening up large spaces for US government and corporate control in India. This, no doubt, is a symbol of imperialism already demonstrated through the Iraq war and the obvious links of US policy with corporate control over resources. With unbound exchange of information, data and material, knowledge and technology the dominant global power is all set to encroach upon Indian reserves and impinge upon our sovereignty. The deal ensures supply of sufficient nuclear material to nuclear reactors in India for the next 40 years, but the precautionary agreements to negotiations and consultations are only promises for the future. All this is subject to approvals and conditions to be monitored by the US Congress, while sidelining Indian Parliament.

The United Progressive Alliance government is proving to be increasingly submissive to the exploitation of our resources, knowledge and cheap labour by commercial interests and corporate interests. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are also in the power game, using capitalist forces for support. The Left has raised an important issue using their bargaining power. Non-party people's formations may not have the power in Parliament, but we have an important set of issues that need to be considered.

The Indian Constitution which allows deals such as this, as well as international treaties and agreements to be reached without democratic consultation, needs an amendment to make public debate and referendums mandatory and pre-conditional. We need an approval from the Indian electorate before we agree to sign the agreement.

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