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As negotiations on the proposed nuclear co-operation agreement between India and the United States enter a critical third day, it is extremely important to analyse and understand the impact that the deal, if it comes through, will have on the Indian civilian and strategic nuclear power programmes. The background to the present round of talks had already been sown in July 2005 when both countries had agreed to co-operate on the issue of supply and use of nuclear energy for civilian, peaceful purposes. The consensus arrived at, was hailed as historic and India was said to benefit immensely from the subsequent deal. However, later developments in this regard has witnessed a paradigm shift in the demands and objectives that the United States seeks to attain from this deal; a stand which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to as “shifting goal-posts”.
In 2005, at the time of agreement, the U.S had agreed to a policy of non-intervention in any of India’s strategic nuclear programmes as regards the design, development or testing of any nuclear weapons. The deal focussed primarily on the issue of nuclear fuel for civilian purposes and supply from the U.S and the N.S.G (Nuclear Suppliers Group) for the same; this subject to India’s conformity to fuel and reactor norms as specified by the IAEA. However, in late 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the United States- India Peaceful Atomic Energy Co-operation Act, now popularly known as the Hyde Act. The Hyde Act, which received an overwhelming approval in the Congress, has completely redefined the context in which the deal is to be passed. The Act puts a cap on further testing of nuclear weapons by India; in the event of a breach through such testing, co-operation would be suspended. Furthermore, the question of civilian nuclear energy co-operation seems to be a half-way house. India, if one were to understand the terms of the Act, is barred from reprocessing its spent fuel; a limitation on an apparent sovereign right of the nation. Not only is it a restriction on such a right, it shall also result in the piling up of radioactive spent material.
If the 123 Agreement currently in the process of negotiation were to come through in its modified context, India would be subject to terms and conditions entailed in the Hyde Act. Already the U.S legislation has received heavy flak from various political organisations within India. Questions, even those concerning a rethinking of the entire deal has been put forth. Therefore, the present state-of-affairs are critical in shaping the future course of nuclear technology development in India.
In a forum for Greater Co-operation between India and the U.S in New Delhi, Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs had stressed on the isolationist policy India had adopted vis-a-vis nuclear power (civilian and strategic) and had emphasized on a “compromise” of sorts with the Hyde Act to ensure rapid development on spheres of civilian nuclear technology. What the Under-Secretary seems to forget is the fact that the isolationist stand had been thrust upon India after Pokhran in ’74 and ’98 by US-driven policies of sanctions and other restrictions.
As the world is gradually moving towards a dilution of polarity, with more “Superpowers” emerging in the scene, such a lop-sided agreement cannot be encouraged. To reiterate, India should push for equality within the field of nuclear co-operation and must not push through in haste with the 123 Agreement.