a) Forging a new nuclear deal

Watching the Republic Day parade, where 10 ASEAN leaders were chief guests, it was easy to miss the fact that the dates of their visit also marked the anniversary of another big visit three years ago: the visit by then U.S. President Barack Obama, when he announced a “breakthrough” in the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, to finally pave the way for a commercial contract. “The deal is done,” Sujatha Singh, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, said as the government issued papers and held briefings describing the nature of the agreement between India and the U.S. on supplier liability and tracking requirements, which would enable American companies to build nuclear power reactors in India.

A decade on

Today, nearly a decade since the memoranda of understanding were inked, and three years after the last wrinkles were ironed out, there is no sign yet of any concrete contract between an American company and the Indian authorities to build a reactor. In 2009, both GE-Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse had begun talks on techno-commercial agreements for six reactors each in India. These commercial contracts were to be the start of the ‘payoff’ for the U.S. that had considerably shifted its stand on non-proliferation to give India the waivers needed, and they were to herald India’s arrival on the global nuclear power stage in return. Instead, GE-Hitachi’s plans were shelved after it rejected the Obama-Modi agreement in January 2015, saying GE would not accept the compromise formula on supplier liability. (While others have indicated they would accept the liability offer, none of them has put that on paper.) Toshiba-Westinghouse then carried the baton to actualise the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, but ran into a different storm as both Toshiba and Westinghouse had major financial troubles last year. After a near-bankruptcy, Toshiba jettisoned Westinghouse for just $4.6 billion to a Canadian consortium, a deal that is now expected to be cleared by the end of 2018. As the U.S. sends Westinghouse officials to India next week to reopen negotiations, the government must consider all that has changed before deciding to go ahead with the commercial contract. With shifts in global politics, renewable energy technology, the U.S.’s commitment to India, and the supplier’s capacity and ability, it would be ridiculous if India remained steadfast to a deal envisaged a decade ago under very different circumstances. To begin with, there are changes in the deal itself. The financial crisis was set off because Westinghouse went into major cost overruns, possibly worth more than $15 billion, in building four AP1000 reactors at two projects in the U.S., the same reactors as the ones meant for India. When work was halted on the Westinghouse projects in South Carolina, the construction was already five years over schedule. India’s past record with Russian projects (the only foreign collaboration operational so far) puts the mean time to construct a reactor here at nine years. This would mean that even if an India-U.S. techno-commercial contract is finally readied in 2019, and the ground breaking begins immediately, it may not see fruition until 2029, a good 20 years after the nuclear agreement was signed. Westinghouse’s new buyers have already pared the business, will not construct the nuclear power project in India, and will only supply reactors and components. In the terrible scenario of a Fukushima-type nuclear accident in India, this further dilutes the liability that U.S. companies would carry. This was certainly not the future envisioned by those who first negotiated the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement, and it calls into question whether the agreement, as it stood in January 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Obama made that announcement, is even valid.

The Trump effect

Second, Donald Trump’s presidency has taken a very sharp turn away from renewable energy, and even the promise of nuclear dollars has dimmed in comparison to the lucre of fossil fuels in America. In his State of the Union address last week, Mr. Trump said that the U.S. has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” and will now mine, export and push oil, gas, coal and shale trade into its foreign outreach. A case in point is the big pitch Mr. Trump made during his meeting with Mr. Modi in Washington last June, which led to Indian orders for both oil and gas shipped from America. As a result, New Delhi may not get the support that the Obama administration had promised both on financing renewable energy projects and in facilitating India-U.S. civil nuclear power deals. India has already received a rude shock with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, and from Mr. Trump’s singling out India as a “leading polluter” during his announcement of that decision last year. This, after the Obama administration had browbeaten India into acceding to the Paris accord two months ahead of deadline, by promising to help India reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Third, India’s own requirements from the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal have changed considerably. In May 2017, the Cabinet approved a $11 billion, 7,000 MW construction plan for 10 Indian-made pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). With existing constructions and the current capacity of 6,780 MW, India hopes to have 14,600 MW of nuclear power online by 2024. Even as it makes a push for indigenous nuclear power plants, the Department of Atomic Energy is also advocating PHWRs in more inland sites in Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, with concerns about too many nuclear projects dotting the southern coastline which lies along tsunami and earthquake faultlines, as the U.S. and French projects are. India has also found much more comfort in its existing agreement with Russia’s Atomstroyexport, that began with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Kudankulam 1 and 2 in 1988, and has kept a slow but steady pace in delivering reactors and operationalising power projects. When asked about India’s new focus for other foreign collaborations, the long-serving Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin, who passed away last year, used to reply, “When you see the first nail in the first beam of the first power project built by anyone other than us (Russia), ask me the question again.” Another issue relates to the cost that India is prepared to pay for nuclear energy through foreign collaborations. Indo-French negotiations for six 1,650 MW European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur have dragged on for a decade on this count, with the Department of Atomic Energy announcing in 2013 that the cost “cannot go above” ₹6.50 per unit, and the French company Areva (the project has now been handed to EDF) clearly seeking more.

A changed landscape

Finally, shifts in the world nuclear industry must be studied closely before heading back into negotiations with new companies. As the pressure to lower nuclear power tariffs increases, nuclear safety requirements have become more stringent, putting intense strain on all those in the business. Ironically, while French President Emmanuel Macron visits India for the International Solar Alliance this March, much of his bilateral negotiations will focus on getting a better deal in Jaitapur for EDF, which is counting on the nuclear project for its own financial future. Most nuclear companies globally are staring at major losses over their nuclear businesses, and this too must be factored into India’s negotiations. More countries now see nuclear power as a “base-load” option, to be kept as back-up for the unstable, but infinitely less costly and eco-friendly solar and hydroelectric power options. That is, nuclear power is losing its primacy in the energy mix. In 2016, for example, global wind power output grew by 16%, solar by 30%, but nuclear energy only by 1.4%. As a result of all these changes, the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement for commercial projects, as it was completed all those years ago, is now obsolete and reviving it will require a different template that takes into account India and the new global realities. The deal that was “done” is now dead. Long live a new deal.

b) Get cracking: on implementing ‘Modicare’

The NDA government lost precious time in its first three years in initiating a health scheme that serves the twin purposes of achieving universal coverage and saving people from high health care costs. It announced two years ago in the Budget a health protection scheme offering a cover of ₹1 lakh per family, but ultimately that did not extend beyond ₹30,000. Fresh hopes have been raised with the announcement of Ayushman Bharat in Budget 2018. The plan has the components of opening health centres for diagnostics, care and distribution of essential drugs as envisaged in the National Health Policy, and a National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) to provide a cover of up to ₹5 lakh each for 10 crore poor and vulnerable families for hospitalisation. These are challenging goals, given the fragmented nature of India’s health system. Some States already purchase health cover for the poor, but do not regulate private secondary and tertiary care services or treatment costs. The task before the Centre, which has provided ₹3,200 crore for the programme areas, is to now draw up an implementation roadmap. Developing countries that launched universal health coverage schemes over a decade ago, such as Mexico, had to address some key challenges. These included transfer of resources to provinces, recruitment of health personnel, and purchase and distribution of medicines to the chosen units. All these apply to India. Moreover, the steady growth of a for-profit tertiary care sector poses the additional challenge of arriving at a basic care package for those who are covered by the NHPS, at appropriate costs. A national health system will also have to subsume all existing state-funded insurance schemes. This will give beneficiaries access not just within a particular State but across the country to empanelled hospitals. In the case of the local health centres that are planned under the Ayushman Bharat programme, there is tremendous potential to play a preventive role by reducing the incidence and impact of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Such centres can dispense free essential medication prescribed by all registered doctors and procured through a centralised agency. But the efficiency of a large-scale health system depends on strict regulation. The early experience with state-funded insurance for the poor shows that some private hospitals may resort to unnecessary tests and treatments to inflate claims. Determination of treatment costs by the government is therefore important. This will also aid those with private health insurance, since it eliminates information asymmetry and provides a comparison point. The Centre must share details of the next steps.


1) Breakthrough

Meaning: A sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development.

Example: “a major breakthrough in the fight against AIDS”

Synonyms: Advance, Development

Antonyms: Setback

2) Wrinkles

Meaning: A minor difficulty; a snag.

Example: “the organizers have the wrinkles pretty well ironed out”

3) Ironed out

Meaning: To remove problems or find solutions.

Example: We’re still trying to iron out some problems with the computer system.

Synonyms: Solving, Solution

4) Payoff

Meaning: The return on investment or on a bet; a final outcome or result.

Example: “the potential pay-off is enormous”

Synonyms: Return, Reward

5) Non-proliferation

Meaning: The prevention of an increase or spread of something, especially the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons.

Example: “this will be the most important conference in our lifetime on disarmament and non-proliferation”

6) Herald

Meaning: Be a sign that (something) is about to happen.

Example:” the speech heralded a change in policy”

Synonyms: Signal, Announce

7) Shelved

Meaning: Decide not to proceed with (a project or plan), either temporarily or permanently.

Example: “plans to reopen the school have been shelved”

Synonyms: Stay, Delay

Antonyms: Execute, Implement

8) Actualise

Meaning: Make a reality of.

Example: “he had actualized his dream and achieved the world record”

9) Storm

Meaning: A tumultuous reaction; an uproar or controversy.

Example: “the book caused a storm in America”

Synonyms: Uproar, Commotion

10) Jettisoned

Meaning: Abandon or discard (someone or something that is no longer wanted).

Example: “the scheme was jettisoned”

Synonyms: Dump, Drop

Antonyms: Load, Keep

11) Ridiculous

Meaning: Deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.

Example: “that ridiculous tartan cap”

Synonyms: Absurd, Risible

Antonyms: Serious, Sensible

12) Steadfast

Meaning: Resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

Example: “steadfast loyalty”

Synonyms: Loyal, Faithful

Antonyms: Disloyal, Irresolute

13) Envisaged

Meaning: Contemplate or conceive of as a possibility or a desirable future event.

Example: “the Rome Treaty envisaged free movement across frontiers”

Synonyms: Predict, Anticipate

14) Halted

Meaning: Bring or come to an abrupt stop.

Example: “there is growing pressure to halt the bloodshed”

Synonyms: Stop

Antonyms: Start, Continue

15) Fruition

Meaning: The realization or fulfilment of a plan or project.

Example: “the plans have come to fruition rather sooner than expected”

Synonyms: Fulfillment, Realization

Antonyms: Inception

16) Pared

Meaning: Reduce (something) in size, extent, or quantity in a number of small successive stages.

Example: “union leaders publicly pared down their demands”

Synonyms: Reduce, Diminish

17) Dilutes

Meaning: Make (something) weaker in force, content, or value by modification or the addition of other elements.

Example: “the reforms have been diluted”

Synonyms: Diminish, Reduce

Antonyms: Intensify

18) Dimmed

Meaning: Make or become less intense.

Example: “the difficulty in sleeping couldn’t dim her happiness”

Synonyms: Fade, Blur

Antonyms: Sharpen

19) Lucre

Meaning: Money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonourable way.

Example: “officials getting their hands grubby with filthy lucre”

Synonyms: Money, Capital

20) Outreach

Meaning: An organization’s involvement with or influence in the community, especially in the context of religion or social welfare.

Example: “the growth of evangelistic outreach”

21) Pitch

Meaning: A level of the intensity of something, especially a high level.

Example: “the media furore reached such a pitch that the company withdrew the product”

Synonyms: Level, Point

22) Facilitating

Meaning: Make (an action or process) easy or easier.

Example: “schools were located in the same campus to facilitate the sharing of resources”

Synonyms: Ease, Smooth

Antonyms: Impede

23) Singling out

Meaning: To choose one person or thing from a group for special attention, especially criticism or praise.

Example: It’s not fair the way my sister is always singled out for special treatment.

Synonyms: Choosing, Taking

24) Browbeaten

Meaning: Intimidate (someone), typically into doing something, with stern or abusive words.

Example: “a witness is being browbeaten under cross-examination”

Synonyms: Intimidate, Force

25) Acceding

Meaning: Agree to a demand, request, or treaty.

Example: “the authorities did not accede to the strikers’ demands”

Synonyms: Accept, Grant

Antonyms: Refuse, Deny

26) Pressurised

Meaning: Attempt to persuade or coerce (someone) into doing something.

Example: “don’t let anyone pressurize you into snap decisions”

Synonyms: Coerce, Pressure

27) Back-up

Meaning: Help or support.

Example: “no police backup could be expected”

Synonyms: Help, Support

28) Obsolete

Meaning: No longer produced or used; out of date.

Example: “the disposal of old and obsolete machinery”

Synonyms: Outdated, Outmoded

Antonyms: Contemporary, Modern

29) Vulnerable

Meaning: (of a person) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect.

Example: “the scheme will help charities working with vulnerable adults and young people”

30) Fragmented

Meaning: Break or cause to break into fragments.

Example: “Lough Erne fragmented into a series of lakes”

Synonyms: Break, Implode

31) Tertiary

Meaning: Relating to or denoting the medical treatment provided at a specialist institution.

Example: “patients in tertiary care”

32) Subsume

Meaning: Include or absorb (something) in something else.

Example: “most of these phenomena can be subsumed under two broad categories”

33) Empanelled

Meaning: Enrol (someone) on to a jury.

Example: “several of her friends have been empanelled”

34) Tremendous

Meaning: Extremely good or impressive; excellent.

Example: “the crew did a tremendous job”

Synonyms: Excellent, Wonderful

Antonyms: Bad, Poor

35) Hypertension

Meaning: A medical condition in which your blood pressure is extremely high; a state of great psychological stress.

36) Procured

Meaning: Obtain (something), especially with care or effort.

Example: “food procured for the rebels”

Synonyms: Obtain, Acquire

37) Centralised

Meaning: Concentrate (control of an activity or organization) under a single authority.

Example: “a highly centralized country”

Synonyms: Concentrate, Unify

Antonyms: Disperse, Devolve

38) Resort

Meaning: Turn to and adopt (a course of action, especially an extreme or undesirable one) so as to resolve a difficult situation.

Example: “the duke was prepared to resort to force if negotiation failed”

Synonyms: Use, Utilize

39) Inflate

Meaning: Increase (something) by a large or excessive amount.

Example: “objectives should be clearly set out so as not to duplicate work and inflate costs”

Synonyms: Increase, Raise

Antonyms: Decrease, Depress

40) Asymmetry

Meaning: Lack of equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something; lack of symmetry.

Example: “there was an asymmetry between the right and left ears”


The List of Other THE HINDU EDITORIAL posts available in BANKERSDAILY: