Is India Preparing for Comprehensive Energy Security?

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
April 21, 2019
Image Courtesy: Getty Images

There is no doubt that India is marching towards becoming a handful of most powerful and influential countries that would matter much in all areas impacting global peace, development and stability. No country can boast of its power and influence unless it has sufficient dose of comprehensive material wherewithal to withstand external onslaughts or internal pressures.

One such important material that would determine the resilience of a country in the wars and conflicts of coming years is energy independence. Unless India prepares for its energy independence, it would not be able to meet the challenges and weather the dangers of the future. Energy independence here does not mean self-sufficiency in energy production at home. For that matter, under this yardstick, several powerful nations today cannot claim that they are fully self-sufficient in energy resources. And several countries with abundant of energy resources are not significant global actors.

There are energy producers, suppliers and consumers. The countries with energy resources, companies involved in explorations, upstream and downstream activities; refiners, distributors, insurers and finally consumers are a complex set of actors in the international market place and disruption at any stage can create havoc at the time of national crisis or armed conflicts.

Today the United States claims that it has achieved energy independence. It is because of Shale Gas revolution. The US policymakers are basking in the achievement that the country is no longer dependent on energy imports. Energy, traditional and renewal, is crucial to maintain a gargantuan American military establishment that has deployed fixed and moving forces around the globe and the country is ready with it.

The United States, at the same time, because of its naval presence all over the critical sea-lanes of energy trade, possesses the capacity to disrupt energy supply to its adversaries at the time of armed conflict. Its energy independence thus has double benefit. It can rely on its own resources and simultaneously deny or delay energy supplies to its enemies.

The rich and powerful countries of the European Union, on the other hand, are crucially reliant upon gas supply from Russia, the erstwhile Soviet Union. Russia is anything but an ally and is weary of NATO expansion to its doorstep. China and Japan—both influential Asian powers—are not energy independent. China in fact has spread out its search for energy resources in practically every continent in the world to feed its hungry industries. It is indubitably aware of its energy vulnerabilities and thus to ensure energy supply from the Persian Gulf region, Beijing has invested heavily in CPEC and other related infrastructure through its Belt and Road Initiative.

Aware of its potential vulnerability in the Indian Ocean in the long run, where Indian navy is expanding its prowess and the powerful US navy has base facilities, China is aspiring to get its energy supply through land route. Energy producing countries in West Asia as well as countries along the route of energy supply to China is politically unstable and violent prone. China thus seeks to influence the decision-making centres in all these countries by investing billions of dollars of its foreign exchange kitty.

India has to wake up fast. Its rising economic growth, the size of its demographic profile and the need to sustain a credible military urgently require an energy security strategy that should encompass production, import, renewables, research, efficient use, market volatility, safe supply routes and several other dimensions. Energy security cannot be left to Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Ministry of Renewable Energy to take care of. These two ministries can handle a few important components of maintaining energy security, but not all.

Who will ensure safety of energy supply lines for imports as well as domestic distribution? Can there be sabotage by foreign-sponsored terrorist of national grid and other relevant energy sectors? What happens when oil and gas prices in the international market become too high? How to prioritize resource allocation in a judicious manner at home? How to ensure adequate energy supply to fast rising middle class in India? How to ensure sufficient energy to the manufacturing and service sectors as well as the military establishment? Should India have a time bound strategy to reduce energy dependence on foreign countries? Has enough resources been invested in universities and laboratories for energy research? Is there a need to promote an international understanding among key energy dependent countries? Is India ready to face disruption of energy supply during periods of conflicts abroad? Above all, is there a coordinating agency to handle this critical issue?

Myriad questions can be asked on this issue. No matter what a country has achieved so far, the future is vulnerable to energy crises of several kinds. India must prepare a comprehensive security strategy to ensure national security at the time of uncertain and unforeseen developments occurring in the world. Success of one kind is giving birth to problems of another kind in the midst of mind-boggling innovations in technology. Keeping pace with it is proving hard and the nation must take note of it with all seriousness and sincerity. While full scale wars between nations are getting more and more remote, unconventional conflicts are more and more likely. Energy issue is one such area that may cause conflict in times to come. India must prepare itself in time.