16 November 2009

While We Wait - Solar Mission Release Delayed

By: Kaavya Nag

We awaited eagerly, the launch of the National Solar mission on November 14th, as did several corporate houses, young and upcoming entrepreneurs and investors in the green business space. But we hear that the new possible release date is 19th November.

Even a recent CII green business summit held in October reflected the level of anticipation in Indian industry about the solar mission and its promised profit goodies. However, this rather secret mission’s release was delayed by a few days, as was the target year for the completion of the mission, from 2020 to 2022 – reportedly to be in sync with the 5-year plan cycles.

While citizen consultation on missions and plans seems to have become a thing of the past, even several stakeholder business houses say they have not been consulted while preparing the mission details. Consultations with businesses in the sector would have been the ideal way to get maximal industry buy-in. However, an even bigger hole in the planning process is the lack of consultation with states on the solar mission – after all, electricity and power is a state subject.

The draft of the solar mission had been approved by the PM’s council on climate change (who met again on October 26th). The official reason for delay was because Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was unavailable at the time.

In practice, the plan should have been passed by the FM long before its release. However, we hear that a key piece of financing for this mission has been dropped. Funding for the mission was to come from a cess on coal – a minor 4 paise per tonne of coal mined anywhere in the country. But the Ministry of Coal and Power objected to this surcharge. With this key financing strategy now opposed, key bureaucrats are asking how the solar mission will be funded.

Placing levies on coal mining to generate financing for solar research appears to be but a feeble attempt to address the real issue. That of subsidizing coal power, and failing to account for its environmental effects as inbuilt cost. A balm on the expensive shoulders of solar power is this small cess. But is this the best cess that could have been levied? Couldn’t a surcharge on energy production from thermal power, however small, also be incorporated into the package as a first-step towards removing subsidies from coal and oil-based power?

These are but a few chinks in the armour. A recent television interview on the forest rights Act (2006) and the glaring lack of action or even debate on it after it being passed in 2006, indicates just how famous we are for bringing in acts and rules, plans and strategies, but just how bad we can be on follow-up.

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