Identity and Energy Access in India – Setting contexts for Rio+20

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan

Please find here the original article as pdf file (starting from page 14): TERI Energy Security Insights.

In the two decades following the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, India has changed dramatically. It has transformed from a closed economy with empty coffers to one that is now far more integrated with the world and is widely viewed as one of the most important ’emerging economies’ that are shaping the 21st century. This year in June, stakeholders from across the globe will convene in Rio once again to discuss what is destined to be amongst the most important contemporary theme-sustainable development. The Rio+20 Summit, otherwise known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), will serve as an introspective pause, a chance to review development trajectories, and to realign priorities with reality and ambitions. India will find itself in the uncomfortable position of demanding greater development space and equity as a nation from the developed world, while having to reconcile stark domestic inequities amongst different social groups and income classes.
India’s views on the priorities outlined by the UNCSD were communicated in an official submission sent to the UNCSD Secretariat on 28th October, 2011. According to the document, India views universal access to modern energy1 as “essential for improving the quality of life of the poor”. Yet the nation’s achievements in building capacities to generate or distribute energy in its various forms have been far from remarkable, and indeed far from what is needed to ensure universal access.

India produced around 811 billion units of electricity in 2010-2011,2 with about 300 million people with no access to electricity3 and many more with only notional access. The per capita energy consumption in the country remained around 500 kilograms of oil equivalent, compared with a global average of 1800 (MoEF 2007).

India’s National Electricity Policy, which was notified in 2005, outlined the objective of ensuring “power for all” by 2012, an ambition which still remains far from fulfilled. The fact that only about half of the planned 78,577 megawatts of capacity additions took place over the course of the 11th Five Year Plan,4 exemplified an abject failure in implementation of transformational energy sector projects.

Such failures in implementing capacity-addition programmes, alongside attracting sufficient domestic and foreign private sector investments in the energy sector, are indicative of a larger political failure. The policy deadlocks that result in the lack of progressive reforms on land use and acquisition, foreign capital flows, and environmental norms have created an uncertainty that adversely affects investment decisions. This uncertainty, coupled with bureaucratic hurdles and the threat of disruptive regulatory and tariff policies, has managed to keep both local and international investors away from large scale, capitalintensive energy projects. This economic environment is also keeping away investments into smaller, off-grid solutions, which already suffer from an inherent lack of scalability and from the weak absorptive capacities within local communities.

This capability gap (in execution), due to a variety of reasons, is also why India is unable to commit to timelines and sought development space (read ‘time’) at the most recent international forum. The virtual deadlock at the Durban Climate Change Conference5 is, in part, a result of the inability of India to commit (or even envision) timelines to peak energy emissions, even for achieving global energy poverty thresholds.6 This is the real and hidden story of ‘Emerging India’. Perhaps it is time that this is placed on the table at Rio+20 and beyond, and that Indian positions on mitigation and capping of emissions are understood in this light.

The emphasis on universal access to ‘modern energy’ is an important aspect of the Rio+20 agenda, and it may be useful to understand the Indian landscape. According to 2009-10 Indian National Sample Survey (NSS) data from households, 75 per cent of rural India still relies on traditional energy, such as firewood, for cooking fuel; while over 33 per cent in the same category rely on kerosene for lighting (as a substitute for electricity).7

Over the period 2004-05 to 2009-10, as a result of focused rural electrification programmes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Vidyutikaran Yojna, access to electricity in rural areas did increase by over 10 per cent; and over the same period, access to LPG (for cooking) in urban areas has also shown significant improvement.8

While such numbers indicate that efforts to transform the energy demography have not completely stalled, the dependence on traditional and inefficient forms of fuels has not shown substantial decline. A case in point is the minimal 1.85 per cent decrease in dependence on firewood for cooking across India over the five-year period as shown in Table 1.

Yet these numbers only convey a macro position on energy access. Even cursory examinations of some of the surveys and reports suggest that there are deep and complex socio-economic issues at play that must be addressed and resolved by the policymaking apparatus in order to achieve real progress.

Identity and Access

India is a diverse country, with multiple identities gleaned through the prisms of religion, social groups, regions, language, ethnicity, economic capability, and many more. For the purpose of this paper, it is our intention to examine the state of energy access across social groups and economic classes: the two most prominent identities of modern India.

Even as India aspires to work within a more balanced and stable multilateral framework, and seeks the enhancement of local institutional capacities and capabilities, these alone are unlikely to address the fundamental causes of lack of energy access, and will require substantial levels of organic social transformation through local and national programs. These would need to focus on means of delinking energy access from income class so as to offer a modest quantum of modern energy as a universal right alongside food and education. This may allow certain transformations in the causal relationship that exists today between social groups and income classes (Table 2) and could potentially assist in bridging the socio-economic wedge between marginalized groups and the rest.

On studying the patterns of energy access in Table 3, it is quite apparent that Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Ba ckward Classes (OBCs)10 in rural areas are more reliant on firewood-a traditional cooking fuel, than ‘other’ social groups who increasingly use modern fuels such as LPG. Firewood has low cooking efficiency, and its use has detrimental effects on health (due to the proximate smoke that is generated) and environment (owing to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions). The average dependency on firewood is between 76 and 88 per cent across the aforementioned disadvantaged groups, compared to close to 66 per cent for all ‘other’ groups11 in rural areas. The data shows (Table 3) that the dependency on firewood has only increased over time12 (between 2004-05 and 2009-10) in rural areas amongst the disadvantaged groups, while it has simultaneously shown a marginal decrease for ‘other’ groups.

Alongside the divergences amongst social groups, the difference in energy access across income groups also becomes instructive. The lowest income class is as reliant on firewood in urban areas as it is in rural areas. The startling fact is that the inequity in the urban areas has become more pronounced over the five-year period for the lowest income group shown in Table 4, with reliance on firewood increasing from around 69 per cent to around 76 per cent, and access to LPG decreasing from 5.8 to 1.83 per cent. Although absolute numbers in the lowest income groups have decreased significantly,13 affordability is still a key challenge.

Asymmetric patterns of access to electricity are also prevalent in the country. The percentage of households still using kerosene for lighting in rural areas averages between 30 to 40 per cent for disadvantaged groups-a striking figure considering that typical kerosene lamps deliver between 1 and 6 lumens per square meter (lux) of useful light, as opposed to typical western standards of 300 lux for basic tasks such as reading (Mills 2003).

A pronounced inequity of access among social groups is also observable across rural-urban areas in Table

5. While approximately 60 per cent of STs have access to electricity in rural areas (lower than the rural average as given in Table 1), around 87 per cent within the same social group have access to electricity in urban areas. The electricity access divide between the SCs, which are a significant social group in terms of urban population (Table 2), and the ‘others’ is around 9 per cent.

It is interesting to note that the level of access to electricity for SCs in urban areas is roughly equivalent to level of access for urban citizens in the MPCE bracket of INR 675 – INR 790 per month (Table 6), which is representative of a level much below even the conservative World Bank extreme poverty threshold (defined at US$ 1.25 a day).

In terms of energy access, the statistics suggest that SCs are pegged at a level of access for income classes below the average income of this social group. The share of kerosene for lighting has reduced significantly amongst the lowest income classes in rural areas over 2004-05 to 2009-10 (Table 6).

Meanwhile this trend is not witnessed in urban areas, where the inequity is starker over the same period with an increase in dependency on this fuel by 16.32 percentage points. Access to electricity for the lowest income class in urban areas has decreased from 62.1 to 44.56 per cent. This mirrors the trends in cooking fuels and is indicative of inherent inequities in the provision of access to modern energy in urban areas, alongside the implications of price rise and inflation.

While rural areas tend to suffer from an overall lack of access to modern energy, poor inhabitants in urban areas experience discriminatory barriers usually based on economic capacity. Such trends would challenge policies in the context of a sustainable development agenda, as India is likely to witness sustained and rapid urbanization in this current decade and beyond.

According to the provisional numbers released by the Census of India last year, 90,986,070 people were added to the urban population of the country,14 more than the number added to the rural population. The pace of movement to cities in India is unprecedented, and is on a scale that, outside of China, is unparalleled; with over 30 per cent of the total population already living in urban agglomerations. Our estimates suggest that around 44.5 per cent of the total decadal increase in urban population was a result of migration.15

Urban centres in India are veritable microcosms of the entire country-with a diverse mix of communities, cultures, and income classes ranging from the marginalized, disadvantaged classes to the expanding middle class-which is the primary driver of consumption and economic growth. Table 7 suggests that the share of OBCs in the overall urban population mix has increased substantially over the previous decade, while the proportions of the rest of the disadvantaged groups has almost remained the same, and ‘others’ have shown a marked decrease.16 The way that the various sections of society interact with each other, and perceive each other’s spaces and priorities would be an essential ingredient in India’s growth story going forward.


The trends highlighted in this paper demonstrate that existing inequities in access to modern energy amongst the lowest income classes and the disadvantaged groups tend to reinforce each other. The causal relationship between income classes and social groups acts as a self-fulfilling spiral, breeding inter-generational infirmities. Our analysis suggests that this is particularly true in urban areas. Given the fact that India will add over 200 million urban citizens over the next twenty years,17 increased policy emphasis must be given to urban areas by creating new ways to allow access to energy, especially for those who cannot afford it. The Rio Earth Summit of 1992 coincided with the beginning of India’s increased engagements with the international community. This current decade is likely to determine whether or not the country will succeed in narrowing income gaps, overcoming socio-economic inequities, and reducing poverty through decisive domestic actions. An economy and country which uses a majority of its scarce resources and limited infrastructure to serve only a minority of its people will find it increasingly hard to deflect arguments which suggest that its elite hide behind its poverty. India’s macro position on equity at international fora such as Rio +20 must be reflected in its domestic resolve to offer energy equitably to its diverse population. The imperatives of creating a ‘green economy’ must only follow and complement such efforts.


MoEF (2007) India: addressing energy security and climate change. Available at


IEA (2010) World Energy Outlook, Paris: International Energy Agency. Mills E (2003) Technical and Economic Performance Analysis of Kerosene Lamps and Alternative Approaches to Illumination in Developing Countries, California: Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

(Samir Saran is a Vice President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: Energy Security Insights, TERI (January-March 2012)

1 The International Energy Agency describes modern energy access as “a household having reliable and affordable access to clean cooking facilities, a first connection to electricity and then an increasing level of electricity consumption over time to reach the regional average”. The initial threshold level of electricity for rural households is assumed to be 250 kWh, while urban households are assumed to use 500 kWh per year on average. For more information, see

2 According to the Central Electricity Authority:

3 The latest figure for the number of people without access to electricity is 272 million. This is calculated from the 66th round of the National Sample Survey.

4 34,462 megawatts were added by the end of FY 2011.

5 The 17th Conference of Parties held in November, 2011, in Durban, South Africa.

6 The 2010 edition of the “World Energy Outlook” published by the International Energy Agency assesses two primary indicators of energy poverty at the household level-the lack of access to electricity and the reliance on the traditional use of biomass for cooking. As is highlighted in this report, India fares badly across both the indicators.

7 Data obtained from ‘India Data Labs’ at the Observer Research Foundation.

8 Throughout the paper we make the assumption that electrification is the closest available proxy for access to electricity and we acknowledge that access to the grid may not necessarily imply access to energy. In this context, we make conservative estimates of the overall lack of access to electricity.

9 The Government of India uses MPCE as proxy for income for households to identify the poor (who tend to have minimal savings).The proxy works well given that expenditure= income – savings. Similarly, we use MPCE throughout this paper to define income classes.

10 To be referred to as “disadvantaged groups” henceforth.

11 2010 Data obtained from ‘India Data Labs’ at the Observer Research Foundation

12 Given that LPG use has increased in rural and urban areas, the simultaneous increase in the use of firewood can also be attributed to the substitution of other low efficiency cooking fuels such as dung cake. It is instructive to note that according to NSS data, the use of dung cake for cooking (all India) has decreased significantly over the discussed five year period amongst SCs and OBCs showing a 3.1 per cent and 5.51 per cent decline in each of the respective social groups.

13 According to NSS data

14 Provisional Population Tools, Census of India

15 According to Census 2011, total decadal growth rate of population is 17.64 per cent. Using this conservative benchmark (urban decadal growth rate is 31.8 per cent); the total population increase in urban areas should have equalled 50,471,513, whereas the figure stands at 90,986,071.

16 It is important to note the caveat that the NSS relies on self-reporting of people about their Other Backward Classes (OBC).

17 According to the United Nation’s World Urbanization Prospects, 2009.

BRICS, Steel, Mortar….and Money – Analysis of the 4th BRICS Summit in New Delhi

by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
4th of April 2012
Please find here the original link to the article.

With the Delhi Declaration, BRICS nations, which met recently in the Indian capital, have shown that they have the steel to stand up to traditional power structures, a cohesive vision to jointly respond to development challenges through institutionalisation of concrete mechanisms, and the determination to channel monetary power to strengthen markets, businesses and trade. The Declaration indeed gives insight into the gradual transformation of BRICS, from essentially a response mechanism crafted to address the various development challenges posed by the global financial crisis, to a forward looking entity seeking to enact and enable real global transformation.

The Delhi Declaration extends over 50 paragraphs which are all encompassing in some sense and address many relevant themes for BRICS countries and the developing world at large. The Declaration is significantly more impressive and comprehensive than the 16 paragraph Joint Statement of the BRICS Leaders at the first summit held at Yekaterinburg in 2009 and the sketchy and macro statement of purpose at Sanya last year. The Action Plan within the Delhi Declaration consists of 17 steps which will deepen intra-BRICS engagements. There are three prominent narratives that define the Delhi Declaration – reaffirmation of the UN framework for global governance, disappointment with financial regimes shaped in the mid 20th century and a confidence to tap into economic opportunities that exist within BRICS.

The Delhi Declaration has stamped the intent of BRICS nations to coordinate and collectively respond to global security challenges within appropriate frameworks that give precedence to fundamental principles such as international law, transparency and sovereignty. BRICS members have recognised and re-emphasised the centrality of the UN in dealing with regional tensions and they have explicitly outlined this for specific cases including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Syrian imbroglio and the contentious Iranian nuclear programme.

The Declaration unambiguously states that “plurilateral initiatives” that go against the fundamental principles outlined earlier, will not be supported by BRICS. The Declaration is clearly against actions such as asymmetric trade protectionism, unilaterally imposed sanctions and taxes imposed on businesses. The EU’s Aviation Tax is one such example from contemporary policymaking. In terms of trade, there is strong emphasis on operating within legal instruments such as the WTO and institutions such as the UNCTAD for furthering the inclusive development efforts through consensus and technical cooperation.

The aftershocks from the financial crisis are still a cause of concern to the BRICS nations. The pre-occupation with Europe has distracted attention from the social transformation programmes and poverty alleviation efforts among BRICS members. The Delhi Declaration has spelt out the “immediate priority” of restoring market confidence and getting global growth back on track. The steps to address such concerns will include attempts to rebalance global savings and consumption, furthering of regulatory and supervisory oversight in the financial markets, increasing the voice of developing and emerging nations in global financial governance and the institutionalisation of financial mechanisms to redirect existing capital to tackle development imperatives.

The BRICS members have therefore announced a working group led by the Finance Ministers of the individual nations, in order to examine the “feasibility and viability” of a BRICS Development Bank. When formed, such an institution will likely be able to shift and contextualise the development discourse within and outside BRICS and therefore is one of the most significant actionable outcomes. It is evident that such a multilateral institution is not meant to compete with existing ones, but rather, to enhance lending and investment to create sustainable development trajectories. Contrary to expectations several high ranking Chinese policymakers, including the Assistant Foreign Minister, Ma Zhaoxu, have supported the idea.

The BRICS members have clearly outlined that the purpose and nature of Bretton Woods Institutions such as the World Bank, must shift from being essentially a mediation instrument to enable North-South cooperation, to one which can actually prioritise “development issues” and overcome the “donor-recipient dichotomy”. They have also called upon the World Bank to mobilize greater directed resources and enable development financing at reduced costs through financial innovations and improved lending practices. Indeed for BRICS, the focus on World Bank and IMF reforms has remained constant through the years, yet the Delhi Declaration articulates these concerns more lucidly than ever before.

Given that intra-BRICS trade has been consistently on the rise over the past decade, BRICS Leaders have endorsed the conclusion of the Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currency under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism and the Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement between their respective EXIM/Development Banks. Such steps to mitigate market risks and enable local currency transactions will only add to the existing momentum and build resilience in BRICS economies to global business cycle fluctuations and exchange rate volatilities. Notably, BRICS have also endorsed the market led efforts to set up a BRICS Exchange Alliance between the major stock exchanges of BRICS, which will enable investors to efficiently allocate capital across BRICS economies and invest in the BRICS growth story.

The unity and purpose of BRICS has been the target of speculation and scepticism from various quarters. With the Delhi Declaration, BRICS members have been able to assuage such doubts as they have begun to create a credible hedge against traditional global narratives of security and development. They have simultaneously been able to project that there is resolution within the group to deal with issues that are not only of immediate concern but even those that will need attention in the future. The Delhi Declaration paves the way for the institutionalisation of BRICS cooperation, making BRICS a significant transcontinental and politically united force. In Sanya BRICS spread wide to include South Africa; in Delhi they went deep to include substance.

Samir Saran is Vice-President and Vivan Sharan an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. The Foundation hosted the BRICS Academic Forum in March this year. 

Re-imagining the Indus: Mapping Media Reportage in India and Pakistan

Published 2012, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Water shortage has become a subject of intense public debate in the present political narrative on resource management and riparian rights. In an attempt to discern the divergence on core issues and mainstream media reporting, Re-imagining the Indus is a methodological study based on Media Content Analysis of the reporting on water issues related to the Indus, in the leading dailies of both India and Pakistan. This monograph seeks to capture the existing discourse and stimulate policy dialogue on the subject.

In Detail
What is the general discourse on water scarcity and related crises in the Indian and Pakistani media? The study conducted by Samir Saran (ORF) and Hans Rasmussen Theting, scrutinised the media coverage on water on three specific themes – the political discourse, water governance and people, practice and environment.

Titled ‘Reimagining the INDUS: Mapping media reportage in India and Pakistan’, the study found that the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) does not dominate the reportage in Pakistan, indicating a low level of discontentment or critique.

It also found that it is only in the months of winter, when the water flow is low, that inter-country dispute between India and Pakistan, and significant negative sentiment against India, gets attention in Pakistan. But in the Indian media, Pakistan only appears during spring months.

The study, now published in the form of a book, found that agricultural concerns and inter-provincial disputes dominate media reportage in Pakistan while in India media lays greater emphasis on urban water concerns and interventions, including ground water and domestic consumption.

The study also showed that media reports in both the countries, Pakistan more than India, recognise the need for the two countries to cooperate on water issues. From the study, it was also clear that in both India and Pakistan, there is equal emphasis on the aspects of water governance and infrastructure.

Samir chaired the ORF event ‘How should India meet the Maoist challenge?’, 2010

May 15, 2010
New Delhi   

There is an urgent need to re-examine the current strategies of the government towards the Maoist challenge. This was noted during a roundtable discussion on “Meeting the Maoist Challenge: A Re-look at Current Strategy” on Friday, 14 May, 2010 organized by ORF. Focusing the discussion on how to tackle the Maoist challenge, it was noted that bad governance, misplaced development models, incorrect security measures, and perceptions of justice have all played a significant role in the growth of Maoism in India’s heartland.    

Two issues came out prominently during the discussion. First, the current discourse on the Maoist challenge has been dominated by one view – the “paranoid view.” A consequence of this has been the complete absence of alternative views in the current strategies of the government. Second, contrary to the popular understanding and strategies, the discussion noted that the issue was not development but the sense of being denied justice and/or access to justice. Again, in contrast to the popular notion that the Maoist-Naxal problem was a law and order problem, it was noted that the issue is rather a problem of the obliteration of the politico-social structures of the tribal people.

Assessing the current strategies adopted by the Centre and various affected State Governments to counter the spread of the left wing extremist in more than 200 districts of India, a participant pointed out that the Salva Judum strategy of the government has been one of the main causes of the growth of Naxalism. It was pointed out that no rehabilitation and compensation has been made by the government of Chattisgarh to the people who had lost everything.

A participant pointed out that there is a general contempt among people towards the tribals which also was one of the reasons for the current state of affairs in the tribal areas. Another participant noted that there is a difference between cause and phenomenon. Commenting on the role of media, a participant noted that both print and electronic media have become indifferent to the Maoist issue. Further, the media has been fed by only one side – the police view – and reports often lacked balance.

The discussion questioned the “elitist development model” in tribal areas. It was noted that the current development model measured only by GDP growth and encourages corporate interests has destroyed the livelihood of the tribal people as most of their land were taken away for mining and other industrial projects. Both government and corporate had gone and uproot the tribals in their own land without showing any respect for the tribal people, their culture, their traditional knowledge, their civilisational strengths and their land.

The discussion suggested a multi-pronged strategy for the government. An admixture social, judicial, economic, political and security approaches have been suggested. Though the discussion also got trapped in the debate on what come first – security or development, it brought in other elements that go beyond the mere debate on security vs development.

It was noted that there was a need to broaden the medium of discussion on the Maoist challenge. It was felt that to develop a proper approach to tackle the issue, alternative voices need to be included while formulating strategies and policies. It was also noted that IB or police view alone is not enough but also one sided and that there was a need to include rights-based perspectives in government’s policies. It was noted that the issue was not pure economics but one of delivering rights.

On the political front, it was suggested that there was a need to re-look at the current governmental structures at the district and block levels. A participant suggested that the first priority of the government has to be to restore civil administration in the affected states and districts. A participant noted that change in government structures at the block level could be an effective way to ensure better representation of local people who are better placed to understand local issues and problems. Also, such as gesture could also give a sense of justice to the people. It was also suggested some autonomous areas could be created for the tribal people through that a sense of local control over its own people and resources could be ensured.

It was noted that there an urgent need for the government agencies to address the basic needs of the people. Education has been stressed in the tribal areas. It was suggested that the “elitist development model” in tribal areas need to be re-assessed. This mode of development has not created wealth but transferred wealth an there was a need for an alternative model of development where the local benefit.

The discussion has urged the government to deliver rights to the people. A participant has suggested that a judicial commission needs to be set up to address the issue of injustice that has been meted out on the people.

A participant noted that there was a need to re-look at the Salva Judum policy. Another participant pointed out that the traditional police force cannot deal with the Maoist challenge and there was a need for special training. A participant felt that there was a need for appropriate security force to deal with the Maoist problem to minimize collateral damage. Most of the participants felt the army should not be used also against the Maoists.

The discussion, presided by former Special Secretary Ministry of Home Affairs Mahendra Kumawat, ended with the note that development and security approaches need to include right-based approach in dealing with the Maoist challenge.

Participants included Mr. D.M. Mitra, Mr. Mohan Guruswamy, Dr. Nandini Sundar, Mr. Dilip Kumar, Mr. Arvind Kaul, Mr. Ashol Rastogi, Mr. K Subramaniam, Mr. Rajiv Sharma, Mr Saibal Dutta, Dr. Satish Misra, Mr. Samir Saran, Dr. Niranjan Sahoo and others. covers ORF report launch on non-traditional security

Latin American countries keen to strengthen relations with India 
April 16, 2011
Link to website  

Participating in an interaction at Observer Research Foundation, envoys from 17 countries from Latin America said their countries are keen to strengthen economic relations with India. “We want better, mutually beneficial relations with India. We have got lots of natural resources, especially oil and other energy resources. But we don’t want to be just provider of resources. We want you to cooperate in our development also,” said Columbian Ambassador Juan Alfredo Pinto Saavedra.

Saavedra, the coordinator of the group of Ambassadors of the Latin American countries, said the US and the Europe used resources from their countries for their development, but did not help them in the development. “While they used our resources, we remained poor,” he said. He wanted India and China to be different in their approach to Latin American countries.

Besides the Columbian Ambassador, Ambassadors from Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama, Costo Rica, Mexico, Peru, Cuba, Dominican Republic attended the interaction. The other countries were represented by high level diplomats like Deputy Chief the Missions and Charge d’ Affaires.

The Ambassadors were given a presentation on the ORF Report on India’s non-traditional security threats, titled “Navigating the Near” by Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation. This study was done by ORF for the Integrated Defence Staff, the Ministry of Defence.

Chairing the meeting, M. Rasgotra, a former Foreign Secretary and now President of the ORF Centre for International Relations, said Latin American countries enjoyed good sentiments in India. He said India would be keen to have mutually beneficial cooperation with them. Former Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath and ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi also took part in the meeting.

Column in The Financial Express: Climate’s Holy Trinity, 2010

by Samir Saran
May 13, 2010
in: The Financial Express

Over the last decade, climate narratives have been shaping social, political and economic beliefs—resulting in climate ideologies spread not dissimilar to religion. Like most religions, these frameworks have their share of rigidities, with each having discovered the ‘chosen path’ that offers a righteous response and lacks reflexivity. Interestingly a ruling by a UK court in November 2009 drew parallels between an individual’s views on climate change to his religious and philosophical beliefs.

The challenge of arriving at a common understanding of climate change and a common response to it is, therefore, akin to discovering a common religion for humanity. If climate is a religion, its holy script is dominated by the description of the holy trinity of finance, technology and equity. Equity remains in the realm of the spiritual; and concrete proposals towards a world that shares prosperity are confined to classrooms and social scientists even as the economists and technologists work to carve the new world.

Nonetheless, responses from each nation or a grouping seek to address these three central features in their arguments. The EU, for instance, believes that the European Trading Scheme and a carbon price would curtail emissions and serve the purpose of equity by redistributing capital through flow of funds from the developed world to the emerging and developing economies. The flaw with this is that the redistribution of wealth is only among entities located in different geographies with complex ownerships that could put the IPL team structures to shame. Critics portray this as a transaction among elites and the cost of adaptation, poverty alleviation and other development challenges remain at the periphery. And this is where the conflict lies, in the belief system of the EU and the imagination of its populace that it is the liberal market framework that offers the most efficient mechanism for redistributing wealth, historical evidence notwithstanding. The framework for allotting emission allowances and the trading of these alongside external carbon credits would need serious overhaul even if they were to have a nominal impact. Perhaps the proposal to auction EUA post 2013 would also enable national governments in the EU to commit some of the proceeds towards the adaptation challenges, state of their economies permitting.

The emerging and developing economies, however, make the case for direct fund transfers into their own treasuries that have historically (in most cases) been shown as incompetent in delivering development and governance to the millions they seek to serve. Do they have capacities to make use of the large cash transfers they so seek? And would they be better served in incentivising regulated markets and evolving state-centric capitalist frameworks for the same purpose? The cause of equity would be served only if the emerging world is able to receive funds from the complex maze of overseas funding mechanism and then enhance internal efficiency of delivery arrangements.

Technology continues to vex the global debate on climate and perhaps is the real non-negotiable, if global agreements and accords that emerge from climate conventions and summits are the frame for analysis. Over the last two decades, the language in these international documents has remained ambiguous on technology and the only certainty is that equity as an argument is not compelling for ceding intellectual property for the developed world. Pronouncements from President Obama and policies and legislations in the UK and EU clearly position green technology and high-tech industries as the basis for re-industrialisation as well as economic revival. The lavish incentive packages for low carbon business and research and the sheer subordination of policy making to corporate interests in this sector demonstrate the desire of the OECD economies to lead the race to the top in this low carbon game. The odds would have truly been stacked in their favour but for the economic meltdown.

The institutes of higher education, research and development in the developed world continue to lend them a distinct edge. They also benefit from a steady stream of the brightest minds from Asia, Latin America and Africa, who after acquiring basic education assist in furthering the research in these institutes for want of similar professional opportunities at home. Thus, even in this post-colonial world, the West continues to benefit from the resource provisions of its former colonies. Thus large pool of human talent backed by unmatched funding assists these countries to incubate innovation and invention, the two pillars of the new economy.

Much of the developing world is still caught up in the semantics surrounding technology transfer. For its sake, it must resist the temptation of being lured into conditional (indirectly priced) technology handouts and post-its-prime technology transfers. It must also realise, as the Chinese have come to realise recently that intellectual property vis-à-vis climate is not a rigid defined product but is more about tacit human knowledge. The centrality of human resources needs to be over-emphasised here. In the last 5 years, Chinese efforts to attract overseas Chinese back to its industrial and research institutes have gained momentum. Through landmark programmes such as the ‘Thousand talents programme’ it is rightly pricing and attracting human intellect located overseas.

It is also determined to tap into the Chinese diasporas that are part of the research and technology industry. Their policy initiative ‘Chinese serving China’ seeks to reverse the traditional flow of knowledge to western shores. The results of these initiatives are bearing fruit and there are reports that tens of thousands of non-resident Chinese have returned home; the process no doubt aided by the financial crisis and shortage of research funding in the US and EU. But the key learning here is that the Chinese are pricing the human capital right and offering salaries far in excess of their business as usual salary structures. They, unlike India, have realised that human resource is at the core of the IPR chain and they are now unwilling to reduce talent and merit to a UGC prescribed salary handout that India seeks to attract and retain talent with. A recent management reports has cautioned that US hegemony in scientific innovation can no longer be taken for granted. China will be investing over half a trillion dollars on green technology research in the next decade and furthermore has committed to deploy 2.5% of their GDP annually by 2012 towards R&D in line with the OECD levels. As a part of the economic stimulus China deployed $221 bn towards the green economy as against $112 bn by the US. Though much of this was for rail transport and water infrastructure, significant efficiency innovations and applications were in the mix as well.

India is committing to increase its outlay for research and is looking to be at par with OECD standards in a decade. However, outlays alone would not help. The systems that feed into the research agenda would need to be overhauled as well. Both China and India would need to improve the quality and spread of education, health of the population, social indicators and infrastructure will all need to be best in class if the environment for innovation needs to be created. There is great equity in this endeavour. Else we can live the dictum that constraint incubates innovation and hope for the ‘Slumdog Millionaires’.

Please find here the link to the original page.

Navigating the Near: Non-traditional Security Threats to India, 2022

Sunjoy Joshi, Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Wilson John, Lydia Powell and Samir Saran
19 April 2011

National Security is most often thought of in terms of political and military threats to the State-either from other States or geo-strategic alliances. Given such a framework, both the challenges as well as the responses have for long been viewed in terms of military force or coercive ability of the adversary.
Events unfolding in today’s highly networked and globalised economies show the futility, and danger, of relying on such a simplistic template. Threats to national security are today multi-dimensional and call for a deeper study and understanding of a wide variety of factors to create a credible and deterrent response mechanism.Navigating the Near seeks to bridge this paradigm shift by studying non-traditional threats facing contemporary India. The study, with its sight on the next decade, evaluates how traditional threats confronting India are likely to be influenced in large measure by a range of factors and trends, both external and internal, that have, till now, remained on the fringes of security studies.

Link to Observer Research Foundation website.

Responding to Change: Searching for a Path through the Climate Haze

by Samir Saran
in: Chevening Fellowship – Economics of Climate Change: A global perspective, University of Cambridge

For an emerging economy like India, the response to climate change will be shaped by a number of dynamic factors, complementary and competing at different junctures. The contours of this response will be determined by geopolitical power-play; economic growth; consumer behaviour; poverty and social justice; the influence of incumbent and new businesses; governance and political leadership at the centre and the provinces – and most importantly the ability to attract and generate finances. This paper discusses the influence and interactions of these factors at three distinct levels. First it discusses the global (dis)agreements on climate and some of the boundaries of policymaking. Then the paper discusses the Indian domestic imperatives that are decisively influencing its carbon choices. Finally, it shows that – with the growth in the aspirations and affluence of the Indian middle class – the ‘consumption economy’ will increasingly influence India’s carbon profile.

Here the link to the entire chapter (pdf-file).
For more information on the publication “Chevening Fellowship – Economics of Climate Change: A global perspective”,University of Cambridge, please visit this link.

Book review on “South and Southeast Asia”, The Hindu, November 2010

Emerging geo-political and security challenges
by V. Suryanarayan
November 2, 2010

This compendium of 10 essays, presented at an interaction in 2009 among scholars of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, covers a wide range of subjects related to the political and security trends in South Asia and Southeast Asia.. They include: the role of extra-regional powers and their growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean; the evolving Asian regionalism; India’s ‘Look East’ policy; the political situation in Myanmar; and the non-traditional security challenges to Asian security.

Since the end of World War II, the pattern of international relations in the two regions has undergone a radical transformation. This is particularly true of the role of external powers in Southeast Asia. Though the relative clout of the United States and Japan has declined, the ruling elite of the region would like Washington to maintain a high profile. The growing economic linkages between China and the United States and between India and China have a momentum of their own. However, China’s recent assertive postures in the Indian subcontinent and the South China Sea have created a sense of unease and have even given rise to suspicion about its intentions and objectives.

In South Asia, profound changes are taking place. The nuclearisation of India and Pakistan has added a new dimension to the troubled region. The struggle for democratic rights, the fight for justice by the ethnic minorities, and the secessionist movements, with covert support from external powers, pose grave challenges to the stability of South Asia.

Given the space constraints that preclude coverage of all the essays, only a limited review touching upon a few of the striking contributions is attempted here. In his analytical piece, “Major Powers in South Asia: What is their game?” Dilip Lahiri projects the scenario that is likely to emerge, one that will have profound consequences. Despite their divergent national interests, the U.S., India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are likely to come together to ensure that the rise of China is non-threatening and does not disturb the peace and stability of the region. Admiral P.S. Das and Vijay Sakuja examine the roles of China and India as growing maritime powers. China’s deepening ties with the member-states of ASEAN and their consequences are highlighted. Equally interesting, the authors pinpoint the strengthening of the links China has established with India’s immediate neighbours — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. In this context, India’s ‘Look East’ policy assumes great significance. As Admiral Das points out, “looking East” is no longer an economic jargon; it is descriptive of the totality of India’s relations with Southeast Asia.


Discussing the major powers vis-à-vis the security concerns of Southeast Asia, Daljit Singh makes the point that, while China’s image and standing in the region has “improved a great deal”, there is also a “strategic unease” about China on account of its “[huge] size, proximity, growing power, and uncertainty about its long-term intentions.” China’s bilateral relations are driven solely by considerations of realpolitik and strategic interests. Witness Beijing’s continuing support to the military regime in Myanmar, its military aid to Sri Lanka during the fourth Eelam War, and its covert support to Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

From India’s point of view, there is concern over a perceived shift in China’s position vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. Hitherto, it had recognised India’s de facto control of J&K, while, at the same time, advocating a peaceful resolution of the contentious issues with Pakistan through bilateral negotiations. The recent denial of visa by China to Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal is held out as a pointer to this subtle shift. Many scholars are so blind in their admiration for China and its remarkable achievements that they do not want to see any signal or be reminded of any historical evidence that shows it in a negative light. Such an approach will be detrimental to the interests of India. The essays — contributed among others by diplomats, naval officers and academics — are scholarly, absorbing and stimulating.

Link to original publication.