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May 29, 2011

Page: 11/37

Home > 2011 Issues > May 29, 2011

Thinking Aloud
Like Bofors and Enron Jaitapur is scandalous

By Dr Jay Dubashi

THE proposed nuclear power project at Jaitapur, near Ratnagiri, has already claimed a victim, a fisherman called Tabrez Abdul Sayanekar, who was shot dead in police firing on April 18, in which at least 50 more were injured, many of whom are in hospital. This is only the beginning, as the Chief Minister says he is totally unmoved and will press on with the project.

It is not quite clear why the government, which means essentially the Manmohan Singh government in Delhi, is so keen on the project. It is said that Singh has given his word to Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, though neither the size of the project nor its finances have yet been finalised. Sarkozy came here last year, dumped this huge project on Singh’s head and went away. And within weeks of his visit, the wheels started whirling in Jaitapur, a sleepy little village on the Konkan coast.

In fact, within days of the Sarkozy visit, the Rs 100,000 crore project received clearance from the Environment Ministry. The Ministry which takes months, and often years, to clear a small road, was suspiciously quick in the matter of Jaitapur. Then came the land brokers snapping up acres of land in the area, backed, no doubt, by politicians from Mumbai, who are never far behind when it comes to grabbing land. Crores of rupees are apparently changing hands in anticipation of the project, though, apart from a small board, which the agitators flung away into the sea on April 18, there is little activity on the site.

We know very little about the project, except that it is going to be financed by the French, though it is not clear whether it will be the French government or the company that will construct the plant. The size of the plant is also not known, besides the fact that the capacity will be around 9900 Megawatt, which will make it among the biggest nuclear power stations in the world. The plant design is unknown, as no such plant has ever been built anywhere. And the company that is supposed to put it up does not enjoy a good reputation, the only thing in its favour being the fact that the owners of the company are friends of Nicolas Sarkozy, which may actually be a liability considering the fact that Sarkozy, the least popular of recent French presidents, will be facing an election next year, which, from all accounts, he is likely to lose. What happens to the project after that?

We have in fact Enron combined with Bofors all over again. Enron was also backed by the US government and its ambassadors in Delhi were breathing down our necks all the time. I know because I was politically active in those days and the Americans were all over the place, although they knew very little about Enron. It was obvious to us that Enron was not so much a power project as a big racket involving everybody in Washington from the State Department to Treasury, financial companies in New York, and of course, the state government of Texas. All that Enron was after money. The company was keen to get its hands on the cash – about two billion US dollars or Rs. 10,000 crore – no matter what happened to the project.

The whole project was, in fact, a fraud of enormous dimensions, for Enron knew right from the start that the project was not viable and would never see the light of the day. When people like me started asking too many inconvenient questions, we were told not to take things so seriously, but things would start moving once the finances were settled. Enron did not have a single engineer or technical man on their staff, for the company had never built anything’ let alone a power station. I doubt if its men, who were essentially brokers or dalals for finance companies in Wall Street, could differentiate between a turbine and an alternator. They were men who knew how to take their commissions on deals which never really came to anything. But their commissions did fatten their accounts which were moved from place to place to avoid taxes.

It is astonishing that our people who were involved in the project never saw through the fraud. Perhaps they did but preferred to remain silent. The US attorneys never believed Enron. They dragged the Enron bosses to court and put them into jail. Only a few months earlier, their top man called Lay had visited India and had been received as a potentate, calling on the Prime Minister and the President and talking of billions. Within a few weeks of his return home, he was in jail, where he died a few months later. The financial boss of Enron is still in jail which shows how merciless US justice can be when it comes to frauds and other misdemeanours. It also shows what a stupid lot we are and can be taken in for a few currency notes or numbered accounts opened in your name in Zurich or Panama, and an all-expense paid holiday in Las Vegas.

I have a feeling that history is about to repeat itself, and the government in Delhi is part of the conspiracy. Nobody knows anything about the project and everything is secret. Why a project costing Rs 100,000 crore should be kept under wraps is itself a big mystery. Nobody has seen the design of the power plant, except government scientists who dare not speak against the government. We do not know how many units there will be, of what capacity, who will fabricate the plant, and what proportion of the cost will be paid for by India.

As I said earlier, the plant has been cleared by the Environment Ministry, but the report has not been published. You are dumping a 10,000 MW plant right in the middle of nowhere, and nobody knows what effect such a huge plant will have on the sea, or the vegetation, or the climate around the place. And how was the environment report cleared in two months? The least the government can do is to publish the report and also technical details of the plant for scrutiny.

But nothing of the kind will happen, because nobody knows much about the plant, neither the French, who are doing the design, nor the Indian government which has been kept in the dark. My hunch is that the project, which, if it goes through, will involve anything between Rs 100,000 crore and Rs 180,000 crore, but it will never go through, just as Enron did not go through and was abandoned, after the finances were collected. I have a feeling that the usual people are already prowling around the ministries in Delhi, people like Quattrochhi and others for whom the project must be a gold mine. In the case of Enron, the brokers made quite a packet, including the Enron managers; in the case of Jaitapur, the amount involved is between five and ten times Enron, which means huge commissions all round.

In my view, the project should be taken out of the purview of babus and politicians in Delhi, and handed over to a Commission with quite a few independent experts on it, may be both foreign and Indian. And the size of the project should be cut down to no more than 2,000 MW, the same as Enron’s. This is the only way to keep the whole thing under control, including the likely damage to the environment. And let there be a representative from Jaitapur on the Commission. You just can’t go into somebody’s lovely garden and build a latrine there without his permission. This is what they tried to do in the case of Enron and this is what they are doing now!

YSR Congress inflicts a humiliating defeat on Sonia Congress in AP
By N Nagaraja Rao from Hyderabad

FOR Congress in Andhra Pradesh it was indeed an unlucky day on May 13. Congress which spent much of its machinery in engineering a defeat of rebel Congress leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy contesting for Kadapa Lok Sabha seat and his mother Vijayamma (widow of the late YS Rajashekar Reddy) for the Pulivendla Assembly seat faced a humiliating defeat.

Sonia fielded state Health Minister DL Ravindra Reddy and opposition Telugu Desam fielded Mysoora Reddy, a Rajya Sabha Member. In Pulivendla, Congress fielded Vivekananda Reddy (brother of the late YS Rajashekar Reddy) thus pitting brother-in-law against Jagan’s mother. The Congress attempted to bring a split in the family of the late YSR but unfortunately the move backfired with voters backing Jagan and his mother to the hilt. Vijayalaxmi of YSR Congress Party bagged the assembly seat with a majority of 85,191 votes, breaking the record of her late husband who won only two years ago by 68,681 votes. She polled 114,198 votes while her brother-in-law YS Vivekananda Reddy of the ruling Congress secured only 28,626 votes. Though Kadapa has been a pocket borough of YSR family, the way Jagan had bamboozled the Congress with his remarkable victory has surprised even political pundits.

Like never before in the Kadapa parliamentary constituency Jagan secured a thumping majority of over 5 lakh votes over his nearest rival DL Ravindra Reddy of the Congress. The Congress and TDP candidates lost deposits, a first in the district. It is also for the first time in their respective political careers that Mysoora and Ravindra lost their deposits.While licking the wounds of the crushing defeat inflicted on them by Jagan’s YSR Congress Party in the Kadapa and Pulivendula by-elections the debate focused on what has gone wrong and where?.

Right from the day one Jagan declared that its a fight between Sonia and him. Though the grand old Congress party is in a denial mode, the writing on the wall was clear even before the election results were out. The ‘Kadapa (self-pride) won hands down against ‘Delhi (arrogance), Jagan had made no bones about this factor during his intense campaigning.

“The verdict is a slap on the face of Congress which totally ignored people’s issues and problems,” said Jagan, adding, “this result sounds the bugle for the downfall of the Congress government in Andhra.” He further added, “Everybody is taking about the downfall of this inept Congress government as people are fed up with it.”

While Jagan would now spare no efforts to claim that he’s the true inheritor of YSR legacy as he had projected this by poll as a fight between Sonia Gandhi and YSR legacy. But what stood out in the landslide victory for the YSR Congress chief was the resolve of the electorate to teach a fitting lesson to Sonia Gandhi and her cronies for the ‘ill-treatment’ meted out to YSR family after the demise of Rajasekhara Reddy.

Even Sonia Gandhi was a result of replacement of Rajiv. So, why only in the case of Jagan. If a mere lady (then) like Sonia and political novice (then) like Rajiv can handle the entire nation many believe Jagan has the capability to run a state like AP where he already enjoys a stronghold in all aspects.

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