ARGUABLY the biggest challenge facing not just India but the entire world in the 21st century is the challenge of depleting fossil fuels. For too long now, fossil fuels- particularly petroleum and natural gas-have fuelled global economic growth.
But now these fuels are rapidly getting exhausted, putting the world in a very uncomfortable and dangerous position. Already, India’s imports of petroleum have doubled from approximately 80 million metric tonnes in 2001/02 to 160 million metric tonnes in 2008/09. There are no signs of this demand peaking and stabilising. We are using oil as if there is an unlimited supply of it; instead of recognising the problem (that oil is a finite source and will deplete soon) and focusing on developing clean, renewable sources of energy.
As far as electricity is concerned, the problem is somewhat similar. Most of our electricity is generated by coal, the dirtiest and most inefficient of all fossil fuels. Even so, much of the electricity generated never reaches end-users. Somewhere along the line, it is stolen, or lost due to non-maintenance of infrastructure. Transmission and distribution losses in India are as high as 40 per cent , substantially above the global average of 5 per cent-10 per cent. Institutional mechanisms to check such rampant theft of electricity have yielded little or no result.
The solution to much of India’s energy woes is right in front of us. India is an acknowledged renewable energy super power – it has surplus sunlight, strong winds, and enormous biomass potential. Yet the total contribution of such sources in our nation’s energy mix is barely 6 per cent -7 per cent. Unless this figure is improved upon by initiatives such as aggressive public-private partnership, and soon, India’s energy crisis may overwhelm its vaunted economic progress, bringing socio-economic development to a grinding halt, literally.
To conclude, a quick look at the four sectors above demonstrates that India’s problems are myriad. However, this is not to say the problems are insurmountable. By approaching them in a systematic, transparent manner, involving stakeholders across the country in the spirit of our democratic tradition, India can overcome most of the challenges inhibiting its development.
(The writer is national organising secretary of Vijnana Bharati)