Q: India’s relationship with her neighbours have come a long way. How do you describe it?
Gupta: See, first is that with India’s neighbours, the relationship has always been not very easy, let me put it this way. And the reasons for that is the way we used to chat in this region. India is the largest, no two neighbours share boundaries with each other, right from the beginning two of our neighbours, they have been carved out of India, and we know the whole history. Plus, our history; the strategic boundaries do not coincide with our political boundaries. Strategic boundaries actually go far beyond; both in the east and the west, etc. That’s why we have these issues which we have to manage with. So with our neighbours, we have been managing our relationship. But at the same time our neighbours also have a certain responsibility to make sure that they don’t work only for core and self-interests. If you see our relationship with any neighbour, it has been full of ups and downs. But now, some of them did better than India in the socio-economic growth and even today some of our neighbours like Bhutan, their per capita income is better than India. But that apart I think today India is a bigger country resources wise, it’s a rising country, a confident country and it can give a lot to its neighbours, and I think we should all regard all these countries as a part of our strategic neighbourhood in which we have certain responsibilities and they have certain responsibilities too.
Q: Talking about resources, and the nuclear resources at the moment India possesses, in your book India’s Nuclear Energy Challenges , Prospects, and Public Concerns (2014) , you have said that “India’s nuclear energy managers must address public concerns over environmental and public health related issues through constructive public engagement and dialogue.” What is the relationship between the nuclear industry and public regulators that you are talking about?
Gupta: You see, in India, nuclear industry is well regulated; there is the NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) which is the one which produces all the nuclear energy, it runs all the nuclear activities. and there is the AERB (The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board), so they are the people who are laid on all the direct relations. So, today we can go into a private sector nuclear energy. In other words some private sectors are producing some corporate legs, but they don’t produce nuclear energy. But the importance of nuclear energy is such that although its share in overall energy mixed maybe small but it’s a very important aspect of resemblance. It provides a base root factor, which the solar and wind cannot provide. They can definitely provide you with energy, but not as steady and long lasting. Another aspect of nuclear energy is that it becomes cheaper because the reactors have a life of typically 40 years but can be extended up to 60 years. So, nuclear energy is virtually free towards the end when the reactors become old. Nuclear energy is also fairly safe as per you know Fukushima and other things. All these aspects of nuclear energy are not non-republic and very often these activism makes us not look into it in a holistic sense. So I think that’s what I meant that we must explain the nature of nuclear energy, the necessity of nuclear energy, its zero emission kind of nature. So we must understand it in an objective fashion. Any energy that you produce will have some plus and minus to that. And we must not forget that we need energy from all sources and we need tariffs also. We need to produce it at tariffs so that people can pay. But all this I think we should take as a whole energy mix and not as nuclear versus the environment.
Q: What was it like working as a member of the informal group constituted by the Prime Minister of India to revive the action plan on Nuclear Disarmament presented by Rajiv Gandhi?
Gupta: You see, nothing much came of this because we wrote some reports and nothing much came of this for two three reasons. One is that India alone cannot do Nuclear Disarmament. And India doesn’t have the interest to influence others who are more into nucleus arms. So it will only become too preachy. You can only be preaching and nobody will listen to you. This is what happened to the Rajiv Gandhi action plan. But this group was set up at least to ensure that nuclear disarmament does not go pushed the radar. It is still a very important part of our nuclear policies. Another interesting thing that happened was that as a part of this whole outrage, we had a very interesting meeting in Vigyaan Bhavan (Delhi) where large number of school children came and 20 of them gave their views on nuclear disarmament. It was amazing to hear that out of 20 probably 19 said that India must have a hard nuclear arsenal! So they wanted India to invest more in nuclear arsenal, nuclear power. So we got a very interesting insight about what young India thinks about nuclear energy.
Q: Given the fact that one of the most rapidly growing threats that India is facing today is from the cyberspace, what measures would you suggest to the citizens and especially the youngsters?
Gupta: I think it’s like hygiene. Cyber hygiene needs to be taught and practiced by all of us. Cyber is here to stay and you cannot simply do away with it. Moreover it is also a very important part of our lives which at the same time has positive and negative effects. Therefore, I think that there should be a balance between the two things; like while driving a car, you drive carefully. Similarly when you’re working on the computer and other gadgets, you do it carefully and there are any number of advice that is available. I think that we should start from childhood and we should be over with being afraid of using it because people will use it! Today my grandson is beginning to fit in digitally. So I feel that there is nothing to fear, but at the same time a lot of precautions need to be taken.
Interviewed by Astha Pramanik