Monthly Archives: December 2009

Nuclear Perceptions and the Game of Risk

The news today of two PhD students found charred to death in one of India’s main nuclear research facilities does not fill with confidence, but the initial perception is that this was an accident without wider implications for safety or security at the plant. Unfortunately, perceptions are what the nuclear game is all about.

As this excellent article from Down to Earth points out, the nuclear renaissance is the result of changes in the broader energy environment (i.e. the fear of global warming and the search for reduced carbon emissions) rather than some miraculous improvement in the safety and cost of nuclear technology. The reality is that India faces a huge uphill struggle in meeting its hopes for nuclear power:

For any foreign company to set up shop in India it will take a couple of years for regulation clearances and approvals. Add another minimum 10 years for a reactor to be ready. Only Russians, who have been working with India and have their designs approved, are likely to set up reactors within four-five years.

…Worldwide, fast breeder reactors have been abandoned. The Superphénix reactor in France was shut down in 1997 after a sodium leak and a roof cave-in. Russia began constructing one in 1987 but did not finish it. Japan shut down its Monju reactor after a fire caused by a sodium leak. The US and Germany pursued large breeder programmes for several decades before abandoning them. Amusing? Consider this: Germany sold its US $5 billion worth fast breeder reactor to a Dutch entrepreneur who converted it into an amusement park.

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Countdown to Cock-Up: England to Withdraw?

Admittedly, there doesn’t appear to be great substance behind the reporting in this Telegraph story, but it does raise the realistic fear that countries like England may consider the Delhi Commonwealth Games in October too much of a security risk. Can you have Commonwealth Games without the motherland?

Read the article here…

UPDATE (31 December)

As suspected, this was a bit of journalistic … um, bollocks, for want of a better word. The wonders of unnamed sources and fragments of conversation which include phrases like “virtually no chance” that can be reconstituted into a front page story. The quotes that were missing from the story were things like “Despite having been given extensive briefings from relevant authorities we have not received any indication that we should not participate in the Games and we will continue to work hard to put in place the best possible arrangements for our team” from chief exec of Commonwealth Games England in today’s Guardian.

Goa Politician Plays the Rape Card

I’ve got a piece in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section about Goa’s unfortunate reputation for high-profile rape cases and some idiotic things said by a local politician:

When I was talking to a well-established journalist friend in Mumbai the other day, he ran through what stories one might expect from different regions in India. Mumbai was good for business stories; Delhi for political and military goings-on; the northeast for insurgencies and corruption. As for Goa, there were rape stories and … he paused … “No, that’s it. Goa is rape stories.”

Despite the air of facetiousness, he was not joking, and the Goan government is acutely aware of this emerging image crisis. There is the unresolved murder of UK schoolgirl Scarlett Keeling in February 2008, the alleged rape of a 14-year-old German girl in October 2008, and in the last month the claims by a 25-year-old Russian woman that she was raped by a well-known politician.

Read the rest here…

ULFA Terrorists on Shaky Ground

UPDATED (14 Jan 09)

For reasons of massive copyright infringement, I have pulled the copy of my Jane’s Intelligence Weekly article down from this post and shoved up this rush-job of a precis:

The basic gist of it was that Bangladesh is co-operating with India in arresting militants that use it as a staging ground for operations in India. This led to the arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa in December, chairman of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), which leaves only Paresh Barua still at large (somewhere in Myanmar probably).

The important development here is Bangladesh’s willingness to help out on this score since the election of Prime Minister Sheik Hasina in 2008, not least because they don’t want to end up down the same road as Pakistan.

Meanwhile, despite the arrests, the northeast of India will continue to be hit by terrorist attacks and riven with insurgency, because it’s mostly lawless bandit country as a result of chronic corruption and poverty, over which it is easy to slap a few ethnic-separatist justifications for violence.

How Indian Money Changed the Rules on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The work started by the Bush administration and US-Indian big business in undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is now coming to fruition. A joint report by Australia and Japan today recognised that Israel, Pakistan and India are never going to sign the NPT and that a new approach is needed (North Korea is the only other sovereign state that isn’t signed up to the NPT, but they’re something of a special case).

The reasoning behind the report is the simple answer that is always the simple answer to anything: money. Non-proliferation can wait. This is normative change in action.

In 2005, the Bush administration agreed to supply India with technology and materials for its civil nuclear programme on the condition that India separated it from the military programme and agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Administration. It took three years for the two countries to pass all the complex bits of legislation required to get this round international law (almost getting the Indian government booted out of power in the process).

The Bush administration sold this as a way of shoring up its interests in Asia, building a strong ally in the region that could check those goddamn Commies next door in China. That certainly aided the passage of legislation through Congress, but as this comprehensive study from the Council on Foreign Relations argues: “At its heart, the U.S.-India deal is really about big business, which has boomed since the agreement entered into force.”

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Is it Cool if I Throw Your Baby Off This Roof?

The magic of a place like India is that, with over a billion people living in it, there is a high chance that someone, somewhere is doing the stupidest thing you can possibly imagine. Even if you were forced to sit down and imagine the stupidest thing possible, however, it’s not certain that you would come up with the concept of throwing hundreds of babies off a roof.

Nonetheless, campaigners in Karnataka face on uphill struggle in trying to ban the annual event which couples hope will bring the child good luck, or at least a penchant for bungee jumping in later life. Here’s a video. Look how much fun they’re having:

Prior to his death (and subsequent canonisation by the guilt-ridden, short-term-memory-inflicted morons of the world), there was one man who flirted with the idea of throwing babies from high places but even his diseased brain was able to stop himself from letting go. His antics were a bit tame in comparison.

Countdown to Cock-Up: Paralympics Set the Tone

If you think I’m being harsh on the organisers of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, then read this harrowing tale of how the Indian organisers coped with the recent Paralympic IWAS Games in Bangalore. The details are so incredible that it’s almost as if the Paralympics were brought here as some sort of cruel joke, an attempt by some truly malevolent being who felt that disabled athletes had been getting too big for their boots in recent years and should be made to scrabble about in the dirt until they rediscovered their rightful place under the jackboot of exclusion and disrespect.

Chaos marked the opening ceremony and it was a shocking sight to watch the IWAS vice-president himself being physically lifted to dais, as there are no ramps in the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

The athletes were forced to witness the inauguration, not from the stands, but at the ground itself as there was no access to get into the stands, due to lack of ramps. Technical equipments were not in place when the events began the next day, be it athletics, shooting or any other discipline and in fact, last minutes touches were being still given to some of the venues like Koramangala Stadium.

India Finds 100 Million New Poor People

Measuring poverty is a tricky business. Is a person poor because they can’t afford a certain set of goods that we consider necessary? If so, is that just bread and water, or does it include all portable devices produced by Apple? Is someone poor because they can see themselves getting poorer in the future? Or is poverty more simply reserved for those whose children are visibly starving to death on the streets?

A new report by a government-appointed body (which I can’t find an original copy of online) has moved the goalposts and made official estimates of poverty seem pretty optimistic about the government’s success in tackling poverty. Their report finds 41.8 per cent of the rural population and 37.2 per cent of the total population is below the poverty line. This compares with the Planning Commission’s recent estimates stating that poverty had dropped from 35.97 per cent in 1993-94 to 27.54 per cent in 2004-05. That means that the Indian government has suddenly found itself lumbered with over 100 million poor people it thought it had taken care of.

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Countdown to Cock-Up: One Hotel Being Built

The travesty that is the build-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, India’s highest profile sporting event since the 1982 Asia Games, continues with the news that only one of the 13 hotels scheduled to be built around Delhi International Airport will actually be ready in time for the Games in October.

According to Mint, thanks to bureaucratic meddling by the government and contracts being awarded so late by the airport developer, there’s a chance that not a single room will be ready in time. The one project that stands any chance of making it is a budget Ibis, part of the Accor group, and even that will probably only have phase 1 (300 of 465 rooms) completed when the Games start. Plans for convention centres, shopping malls and restaurants now seem ludicrously optimistic.

A report by HVS hospitality consultancy in October 2009 stated that only 53 per cent of the rooms currently being planned in Delhi – around 60 hotels – would be completed in the next five years. The best case scenario is that the city will have 5,700 new rooms available for the Games. If I’m reading these stories right, there are currently 16,560 rooms in Delhi (and god knows, most of them are not going to appeal to our top-end sporting stars), which will rise to about 21,000 by the time the Games start. And there are 40,000 visitors expected. Anyone with a spare couch, please notify the organisers.

The 29th State

The big talk in India is that the government has effectively caved into demands for a new state to be created by carving the Telangana region out of Andrha Pradesh. They made the decision late on Wednesday after a hunger strike by K Chandrashekar Rao, head of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi political party, entered its 11th day.

It’s a battle that dates back before even independence and there is a strong case behind it. Even though the planned state would include the state capital Hyderabad, a major IT hub that is home to Google and Microsoft outsourcing centres, the Telangana region has long played second fiddle to the wealthier coastal region. The sheer size of the state – it held 76 million at the 2001 census – has made it impossible to cater equally to the disparate regions. Already, another group have called for the state to be split into three with the creation of Greater Rayalaseema in the southwest and other tribes are demanding their own slice of state.

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