Posts tagged poverty
Seven steps to energy stability
Over the last two weeks (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series), I reviewed various sources of energy which form the backbone of India’s energy policy. However, what remains to be discussed is where do we go from here? Our country has millions and millions of poor. While cutting back on energy use to stem India’s environmental degradation, we also have to think about lifting these millions out of poverty, providing the children of India a better life with better opportunities. How do we balance economic development with environmental conservation? In this part, I will lay out salient features that, I think, should be an integral part of India’s energy policy.
1) We need to increase access to energy
Out of the 1.6 billion people in India, 400 million have little or no access to electricity. How can we educate people, teach them computers, provide them good health and good food, make them better-informed citizens without electricity? We need to get out of the medieval age and fast. The 21st century is no place for laggards. India’s energy requirements are supposed to double by 2035. I feel that without (atleast a few) visionary and honest people in state and central power boards, this is a very tall order to achieve. The fact that the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Coal ends up being embroiled in so major corruption cases (Adarsh scam/Coal mining scam) does not give much confidence.
2) Reducing transmission losses and power thefts
According to Central Vigilance Commission, as high as 50% of the generated power never reaches the customers, due to theft and transmission losses. Shockingly, 30% of the loss occurs as theft in connivance with Electricity Board employees. Central and State governments have tried various measures – from using smart meters to awareness campaigns to increasing degree of punishment. But thieves rarely get caught. One solution to this conundrum is massively privatizing the electricity sector (currently at 21% of total capacity). Experience suggests that privatization of utilities (eg: telephone) significantly reduces corruption in that sector. In addition, technological innovations like Smart Meters can help alleviate the theft of electricity.
3) Reducing reliance on fossil fuels
This goes without saying. NGOs all over the world are campaigning governments to go green but in India, the voice is quite subdued. India contributes 4% of world’s CO2 emissions and is the world’s THIRD LARGEST emitter. In March 2010, India’s energy mix consisted of 53% coal, 23% hydroelectricity, 11% natural gas, 3% nuclear, and 10% renewable-energy sources. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change aimed to bring up the renewables to 15% by 2020, however, that is too low. We need to satisfy at least a quarter of our energy needs through renewable sources. Government subsidies and private sector investments are needed in the renewables sector if we are to make a mark in this market around the world. Nuclear energy is a good option but needs to be used with great care, especially given our cultural history of “Chalta hai” attitude, bribery of pollution control board officials and lax implementation of punishments.
4) More money for R&D
India spends abysmally low on research on energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. US, for example, spent an average of $3.6 billion on energy research between 1993 and 2006. That’s just federal money. Hundreds of private enterprises likely will have added a few more billions to that amount. On the other hand, India’s budgetary allocation for ENTIRE higher education in its 2002-2007 five year plan was around $800 million!!!
It is unlikely that India will match this amount in the near future, but the government as well as the private enterprises in India should be spending more on focused research on biofuels, increasing fuel economy, making our coal plants cleaner, making our nuclear plants safer, solar energy and wind energy. Almost all of the innovations in these fields come from the perceived leaders – US, China, Japan, Germany, France, UK.
5) Local energy to reduce costs and transmission losses
The Gujarat government initiated an excellent project for tapping solar energy – they put solar panels on the Narmada river canal. Not only does that provide solar energy to the farms nearby thereby reducing transmission losses, but it also prevents loss of 90 lakh litre of water from the canal due to evaporation annually. Similarly, asking buildings to harvest rainwater, mandatory installation of solar panels, using biogas for heating/cooking should be encouraged through active policy making.
6) Learn from experiences of states
It is important to realize that the Central Government can only do so much. Experiences in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have shown that efforts of each state in this field can serve as a learning experience for other states. Gujarat’s expertise in Solar and TN’s expertise in wind can be transferred to other states. Plus, each state is different in geographical and socioeconomic aspects. Kerala, West Bengal and the north-eastern states, for example, can afford to focus on hydro-electricity. MP, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan need to focus on solar and wind. Nuclear power is dangerous in Gujarat, which lies on the intersection of two tectonic plates, however, can be effectively implemented where probability of earthquakes and density of people are low.
7) A collaborative effort between government, private sector and common man
In Pune, many new buildings come with installed solar panels. If we mass market such panels (as well as mass produce instead of importing from China), we can get the cost of solar significantly down. At the same time, big companies like ONGC, Reliance, Adani must be made to spend more on alternative, non-polluting energy. Offsetting carbon is just one way to alleviate problems created due to pollution. These companies need to make their installations greener and need to contribute more towards bringing down our energy costs through non-polluting means. Programs like Centre for Science and Environment’s Green Rating Program should be implemented with more gusto. These companies should also be made to contribute more towards conservation of our forest-lands.
Once the government efforts are aided by the private sector as well as the common man, India can effectively move towards forgetting the days of load shedding and burgeoning energy deficits. We will be superbly positioned to satisfy our energy needs as well as take care of our environment. Let’s hope such a day comes soon!!
Do you have any more suggestions? Let us hear them in the comments!!
The School Kit Donation Drive is an interesting and innovative initiative by the people at Seva Sahayog, an NGO based in Mumbai and Pune. Many NGOs are small in size and do not have sufficient manpower or experience in fundraising. However, they do really important work, which, if it becomes more well-known, can surely attract funding from big donors. Seva Sahayog works towards connecting such smaller NGOs to corporate institutions of similar interests. Beneficiaries of Seva Sahayog’s activities include NGOs like Bhatke Vimukta Vikas Pratishthan, which is working for development of nomadic tribes in interior Maharashtra and Chaitanya Mahila Mandal, which is working for bettering the lives of sex workers in Pune.
One of Seva Sahayog’s biggest initiative is the School Kit Donation Drive. In India, almost 300 million people live on <$1/day. The density of the poor is higher in bigger cities due to the massive amount of poor, migrant labor, much of which lives in slums and poorly managed neighborhoods. Children who live in such neighborhoods rarely get access to education. One of the frequent complaints is that, despite all the government subsidies, education is too expensive. Buying uniforms, buying school books, investing time towards studies, lack of a quiet place for studying are all barriers that children from slums face. It is not surprising then, that the drop out rate in primary schools in India is 20%. 1 in 5 children just cannot afford even primary level education!
There are several NGOs working towards tacking these problems. For example, Swaroop Wardinee is an NGO based in Pune working towards identifying talent in slums. There are NGOs based in Mumbai working towards educating children who live on railway platforms and bus stations. Astitva Pratishthan, for example, runs educational programs for children of laborers who work in Sugarcane plantations in Marathwada district of Maharashtra.
Since 2008, Seva Sahayog started this initiative of distribution of school kits to children targeted by such institutions. Each school kit includes a school bag, some notebooks, a geometry compass and a drawing book. Volunteers of Seva Sahayog approach various corporate bodies as well as collect donations from individuals. Only 250 rupees can give one needy child a school kit and ensure his education for one more year. In 2011, more than 25,000 school kits were donated to children in Mumbai and Pune.
All of you reading this post have been fortunate enough to be educated. We understand the value of education and its importance not only in our own personal development but also in the development of our country. I hope you will click the link below and donate as much as you can towards making this initiative successful and helping it reach out to more children.