The Development of India's Energy Sector

-by David Velázquez/ 4 November 2009

David Velázquez is associated with international Trotskyist movement and has worked in the energy sector for decades as a trade unionist and expert on energy systems.

India's national bourgeoisie has, since independence, sought, on occasion, to develop the political economy of the nation away from Imperialist machinations through various forms of national investment.

In the years of globalizing Imperialism, this has taken a contradictory road. On the one hand, Congress plans for doubling and tripling energy generation can help develop India's productive forces tremendously. As a serious "national" plan, it flies in the face of the neo-liberal agenda of allowing the 'market to decide'. Of course Congress plans, like historically similar plan like the New Deal in the United States in the 1930s to try to bring US capitalism out of the Depression is designed to *save* capitalism, not overthrow it and to bring about the non-exploitive and pro-growth mode of production like socialism.

The contradiction of course lies in Congress' and, assuming the Indian bourgeoisie is ONE class, it's various other manifestations such the BJP, unanimously support the drive for privatization of major sectors of the economy under the impact of the same Imperialism it rhetorically seeks to be independent of.

We see this in the Indian State's ambitious energy plans. A gradual shift is taking place in India's massive electrical sector with private players looking to play a bigger role in the country’s electricity generation business. Today, India has about 150,000 megawatts of electric generation capacity. By 2017, the Congress government (and the BJP one before it) hopes to more than double capacity to some 330,000 MW, of which some 30% could be owned by private power producers.

This represents a huge set back for both the Indian working class specifically, and the Indian nation as a whole. Communists generally support such an expansion of the productive forces, especially in energy. A future Indian workers republic will need massive amount of clean, abundant and cheap energy to bring India, and south Asia in general, out of the neo-colonial swamp Imperialism and there supporters in the region have forced it into. A truly massive rural electrification plan must be implemented; high energy industries like aluminum and other raw material processing developed and the standard of living of India's masses raised. But *how* this is done is critically important.

But the introduction of private capital into this market represents a direct assault on the Indian working class and peasantry, not just in the electrical sector but all sectors of the masses that rely or need to rely on electricity. The drive toward privatization means attacks on the standard of living of the unionized sectors of this industry. Unions need to form a united front of all effected workers sections, with community organizations, to fight against Congress' plans. A *movement* against private incursion needs to develop to lead this working class struggle, a movement that would not only oppose privatization but would also demand the re-nationalization of various privatized sectors already undergoing this reactionary process.

Secondly, as part of the government's plan, a massive expansion of coal producing generation is underway. Does this serve the needs of Indian's rural poor or urban working class? Coal kills thousands every year through massive pollutants such as sub-mircon carbon particulate. Additionally, it is the largest cause of heavy metal pollution in the environment today.

The Indian government is pinning much of its coal-fired hopes on “ultra-mega power plants” (UMPPs). It is planning 13 UMPPs, each of which will have 4,000 MW of capacity. Industrialized provinces such as Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are expected to benefit from the construction and operation of the giant new projects. And the World Bank has helped provide some of the funding. In April, it provided a $450 million loan for a UMPP being built by Tata Power.

The government’s UMPP effort is attracting plenty of capital. Energy firms are expected to raise over $3 billion from initial share offerings over the next year or so. They include JSW Energy, Jindal Power, Indiabulls, Sterlite, GMR Energy, Adani Power, Essar Power, Usher Eco Power and Bhilwara Energy. Reports indicate proposed or new joint ventures of Indian firms with Mitsubishi, JSW and Toshiba, Bharat-Forge and Alstom SA (France), and Ansaldo Caldaie (Italy).

So the development of this deadly and polluting source of generation also accomplishes another of Congress' plans: the integration of India's energy sector in the world Imperialist market, not just to garner technical expertise but to actually *subordinate* this market to Imperialism.

A large part of this energy plan also includes a massive expansion of nuclear energy. We can applaud, or at least look on with approval, that this sector is being included. But why add deadly coal to this mix? Nuclear plans involve the massive exploitation of India's huge thorium reserves in Karala to use as fuel. An Indian workers republic would organize such thorium produced generation to phase out, not increase, coal production. This should be the program of India's unions in their battle against privatization. No plans exist to privatize India's nuclear sector and this sector is nationalized by law. It needs to be expanded with large degrees of workers control to assure a continued safety concern.

One aspect of even this generally progressive nuclear expansion is the trampling of peasant and rural villagers rights. While supporting nuclear energy, respect of the local conditions to win over rural residents to a form of energy that can greatly lift them out of poverty is paramount. This means that a *serious* compensation for land to build reactors on from peasants villages needs to be implemented based on the value of the land as an energy producing area and not the formally agricultural values that remain, for the most part, seriously depressed. The 'buy in' by peasants who own and work land near or at where these new reactors are going to be built is a principal of a workers program for energy in India.

At the same time, we have to challenge the very middle-class reactionary anti-nuclear movement that have falsely stirred up fears among some of India's rural population about the supposed dangers of nuclear energy. These activists not only lie about the dangers of nuclear energy, comparing such generation to the capitalist caused Bhopal disaster but with scare tactics such a telling peasants their cows will become mutated and their children will die. These activists would rather see India's agricultural producing class remain poor and downtrodden and dependent on NGOs and other charitable organizations for meager handouts of money, candles for lighting and no electrification rather than see a modern indigenous generation technology develop in India.


  1. "The note is reflective of a Jurassic mindset.
    It appears that the author has never come across the term "ecology". It never appears here. What follows is the obsession with the "expansion of the productive forces" regardless of its ecological costs.

    Then he talks of "very middle-class reactionary anti-nuclear movement". Whether the movement is "reactionary" or not is a subjective construction. But the movements against "nuclear power", as contrasted from the one
    against "nuclear weapon" are essentially waged by the (potentially or actually) affected local populace. The term "middle class", in the Indian context, is of course pretty vague.
    There is hardly any social/political movement which is not "middle class"."

  2. "Developing the productive forces is equivalent to reducing necessary labour time. That is one of the guiding principles of socialism. It
    can be done by planning for a sustainable economy and society that does not destroy the planet. That is why we need a revolution now."

  3. Sukla, I think the author is essentially correct, nevertheless. One of the many big threats to India's ecology is continued reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear provides the biggest way to get off of them AND expand the productive forces with the *smallest* impact. Renewables of course take of huge swaths of land and far more villager in fact could be displaced.

    I think the true environmental impact of energy is felt far less with nuclear.

    The write does seem to seek solidarity with those that are undemocratically displaced by the government. It seems obvious that any progressive application of nuclear energy would have to start from the needs of locals and not just some sort of national will.

    On the other hand, if it's true as some articles have pointed to that NGO or anti-nuclear (I suspect that is what he means by "middle class") goes to LIE about what nuclear means, then yes, in this case it's appropriate to suggest it is reactionary. It's also reactionary if by dint of maintaining a super low energy consumption, which equals poverty in no un-certain terms, then the term is applied correctly by the author.

    And yes, India does need a revolution.


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