Posted by: John Elliott | March 15, 2011

India’s ‘jugaad’ means its nuke power plans should be dumped

Japan’s unfolding nuclear disaster must surely lead to a complete re-think of India’s $175bn plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants with technology from France, Russia and the US. It is inconceivable that India could begin to match Japan’s far from successful attempts, since last weekend’s earthquake and tsunami, to limit the impact of such a disaster, so the plans should surely be halted for the foreseeable future.

This is because India has shown in recent months that it is not capable of efficiently managing mega events, planned or unplanned, despite economic growth of approaching 9%, great successes in information technology and manufacturing, and undoubted scientific skills,

It would therefore be terrible for the country to go ahead with the nuclear programme that it has been planning since it struck a historic nuclear accord with the US in 2008, which gave it access to international nuclear power and allied dual-use technologies. In a moment of apparent euphoria after the deal was signed, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, even talked scarily of India increasing its nuclear power capability 100 times over the next 40 years to yield 470,000 megawatts of power by 2050.

“This event may be a big dampener for our program,” Shreyans Kumar Jain, chairman of the government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation, told Bloomberg news agency. “We and the Department of Atomic Energy will definitely revisit the entire thing, including our new reactor plans, after we receive more information from Japan.”

Ageing reactors

Currently India has 20 ageing nuclear reactors supplying such 3% of its total power generation. Two of the reactors were built by GE in the late 1960s to the same possibly risky designs as those at Fukushima in Japan.

The new programme envisages at least doubling capacity within 20 years. Three months ago, $9.3bn plans were signed for two nuclear reactors to be built by France’s Areva group, plus more to be built by Russia. US companies such as GE are also urgently chasing contracts.

The Nuclear Power Corporation has said that its plants are all capable of surviving substantial earthquake tremors and at least two had done so, including the big 2001 Gujarat quake. It is checking to ensure that currents plants would “be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes” – but that is not enough. India is of course capable of checking such things in the normal course of events, but what is needed here is efficient management to avoid crises, and quick and efficient responses when disaster strikes.

Jugaad – ‘we’ll manage’ – no longer works

There is an assumption in India that, to use the British theatre phrase, “everything will be alright on the night”. The Hindi word is jugaad which implies innovative and sometimes rule-bending fixing so that “we’ll manage”. Then there is kaam chalao meaning “make do”.

Till recently, one could indeed rely on India turning chaos into last-minute success in the Monsoon Wedding film’s sort of way. But it has begun to look over the past year or so as the country’s growing corruption and managerial inefficiencies have shown it incapable of responding effectively to the quickening pace of high technology and other changes in many areas.

Jugaad, in effect is no longer enough. This was shown most dramatically with the Commonwealth Games’ corruption and managerial fiascos late last year. Other examples include extensive flooding every monsoon in Mumbai and elsewhere, discovery last year of radioactive steel scrap in a Delhi recycling yard, Delhi’s inability to manage the crowds and road congestion caused by an annual auto fair, gross inadequacies in police readiness and functioning, a disastrously inefficient reaction to a massive fire in Kolkata a year ago, countless railway crashes, yearly fog problems at Delhi airport and so on.

The list is endless, with each example showing, in different ways, the impact of a combination of waning government authority, lack of managerial focus and authority, poor and unsustained training, unwillingness or inability of professional experts to challenge the often-corrupt dominance of self-serving top officials and politicians, and over-riding greed and corruption.

Nuclear power is already controversial in India.  Opposition has been building up against the imminent construction of an Areva nuclear plant in an earthquake-risk zone in southern India. The government was also forced by opposition parties last year to buck international practice and  make nuclear plant suppliers liable for accident compensation claims.  Now it will be difficult for political parties to authorise construction of most nuclear plants.

This is indeed one of those moments when India can be thankful that it has a powerful, if fragmented, political democracy. As Uday Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based National Maritime Foundation, said yesterday, “Democracies are reactive and an accident of this magnitude will raise concerns among the population about the safety of the technology”.


  1. […] March, after Japan’s nuclear disaster, I suggested that such attitudes meant that India could not be relied on to ensure sustained safety if it buuilt […]

  2. […] country seems to have more hope than the rest of the subcontinent. Elsewhere – especially in India – governments fail even to bother to try perform, hoping that jugaad (‘we’ll manage’) and  kaam chalao ( “make do”) will […]

  3. How many of those in favour of increasing nuclear power stations in India would accept living within a mile of one?

  4. @biswajit

    as you know we 5 fingers in our hands.Each one is different in size like that all netas are not bad…………

    secondone on a humorous note about sanitation…….doing it under a tree will be ecofriendly….doing it toilets will polute rivers and lakes and water beds nomater in which country you go…..

    been to vanice last year….water is getting heavier over there….

  5. India will going in Thorium Powerplants and plotanium powerplant.we have 25% of total thorium reserve availablity at home and also have made worlds first reactor on thorium.Uranium is expensive,plus thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.a tonne of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal.
    it is less dangerous and as we will be one the early users so the exporter of raw thorium at lesser price will be widely available…..

  6. India is truly a country of contrasts which never ceases to awe and even overawe outsiders! We lack basic sanitation for millions of poor but are able to fire off rockets to space! At the same time, we have failed to tap the talent of our scientists for the simple reason that it is the babus or the bureacracy who lord over everything here. Every specialist or for that matter high qualified scientists who would have deified abroad for their talents and would have fetched a handsomely paying job finds himself working under a mediocre babu who happens to least understand his subject but has the final take on decision making! That in my opinion is the single most important reason for the lack of morale and spirits in our scientific pool.

    As a result we allow bad science to flourish due to cronyism, unabashed flattery, corruption and nepotism. Our netas simple lack the brains to understand the issues or interest since opening Swiss accounts is the reason they enter politics!

  7. I always viewed India as an ‘organic’ nation that would shun Crude, EMF pollution, GMOs and Nuclear energy. It must be corrupt contractors and GLCs or nepotist/oligarch politicians influencing decisions, for this to even be considered.

    Given India’s infrastructure issues (read about the sewage issue also), they’d be better off teaching the people how to live WITHOUT electricity, in an organic manner, instead of creating a problem 40-80 years down the road that will not be easily solved by the next generation or two.

    Nuclear waste does not clean itself up and some forms last for up to 50,000 years. That an the fact that gold and nuclear material are stablilizers of the ionosphere and magnetosphere, without which the planet could DIE. India should be at the forefront of greening the planet, not further destroying it with radiation or genetic mutation of all things.

    An Electricity Free World

    Coprovore Terrarium Sewage Unit (To Replace Sepic Tanks or Entire Sewage system)

    Various Synthetic Product Replacements / Support of Organics Industry Instead of Synthetics

    Manmohan Singh should put his foot down here. Nuclear is nonsense and in he context of Animism, possibly murder as well as radioactivity might be a sign of a different form of life.

  8. @ the independent article: obviously a military technology will stay secret & will take time to mature. But the importance of openness (last parts of article)is a very good step forward.
    @ skeptics of nuclear power: An IC engine is nothing but fuel exploding at extremely high pressures and temperatures . Conditions similar to volcanoes are today common in out cars & bikes. Fundamentals of nuclear technology(similar to engines) are scary, but humanity will take time & some mistakes to learn from them. We have come a long way in converting a destructive force for peaceful means and no way should this be discarded .

  9. First of all, nuclear energy is costlier than the energy from coal/gas based thermal power plants. But purchase of nuclear power plants open the way for some one to have swiss accounts as now all big MNCs are involved. Its sheer corruption chances that will ensure that these MNC s get their business by hook or crook.

    As far management of disaster is concerned, India is not even prepared to handle Earthquake of 6 magnitude for its capital Delhi. If someone asks in RTI about possible damages and preparedness of Delhi for EQ6 ; answer itself will let everyone know about truth.

    Apart from that, we shall concentrate on research in Solar/ wind and tidal energies which are neat, clean and abundantly available. But swiss account cannot be opened for research. See the grant that is received for such purposes.

    You have commented on Chalat hai, jugaad but left ‘Kismet’.
    So our last hope is in our ‘kismet’ ( luck)

  10. See this lead article in the UK’s Independent newspaper today —–

    “Four explosions, two fires, and a cloud of nuclear mistrust spreads around the world………..nuclear industry has been dissembling for so long, and caught out in its lies so often, that the chance for trust may have passed…….”

  11. We should built thermal and oil power plants and along with it we should tap all our hydro electric potentials.they will make pollution but not a radio active one…………

    If Japan with the boiler of GE of US is facing so much of trouble then in similar situation we will have to face trouble………….

    Lets make new improved termal power plants as it is we are accepting the emmiission clause of climate change….

    and after some decade we can again switch back to nuclear power generation with then newer technology………..

    some island countries will face problem and some taste the salty water if we go into such plans………….will be its side effects……

  12. Definitely it is the very correct period to revisit nuclear energy. There is always trade off for any advancement – any such advancement is worth when trade off is affordable or minor. In this case trade off is really a huge threat which would not sell nuclear energy at all!

    As you pointed the country should first take steps to prove its operational efficiency in all areas to step into such big projects.

    I personally would say no to nuclear energy at any time.

  13. Dear Mr Elephant rider,

    If you feel jugaad is so pervasive , how come we Indians are capable of having satellites in space? How did we almost completely indigenous a fighter jet(tejas)? No need to have sweeping statements such as your title just because you are a bit paranoid!

    Nuclear power is a cheap source of fuel , and its time we develop it to fulfil our energy needs following all international norms for their safety. Period.

  14. Thanks John. If we give up nuclear energy it will involve an end to get indigenous Thorium based reactors. which are the only availbale option for long term energy security and energy self-reliance. and if we go in for coal based power all the envrironmental fundamentlaists across the world will say we are polluting the whole world. What do you and the anti-nuclear fundamentalists suggest we should do? Go back to the stone age?


  15. This post is also on The Independent newspaper’s Foreign Desk blog page at there include:

    • cbebop 1 hour ago

    You cannot generalize a country of a billion people which is roughly 20 times the size of UK as being inefficient dumb fcuks based on a single ill managed sporting event and a fire. The people incharge of the commonwealth games were politicians who have no clue of what they are doing. Public sector organizations such as ISRO and NPCIL which is responsible for Nuclear power in India however are run by scientists. They may or may not be as efficient as the Japanese but you definitely cannot compare them to the organizers of the CWG.

    Yes I do agree about the Jugaad aspect in India and I hate it, but not everything in India works on Jugaad. Organizations such as ISRO which is responsible for Space research are run efficiently with far less funding as compared to say NASA.

    • humanunderdog 19 minutes ago in reply to cbebop

    • Prof. Gautam Ahuja, The Harvey C. Fruehauf Professor of Business Administration; Professor of Strategy;Chair of Strategy at Stephen M. Ross School of Business University of Michigan in his Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2011 – Prof CK Prahalad Memorial Lecture shared his experiences of the Jugaad culture. He mentioned Delhi is the foster home of Jugaad and it has serious limitations.

    With due respect Honourable Cbebop, comparisons are odious. However the fact remains that even though human beings would prefer to be recognized for their future potential the world prefers to judge a person/society by her/his/their past performances and the results produced.

    It is a moot point whether rocket science and nuclear wizardry are the need of the hour for billion plus population where lack sanitation, access to clean drinking water and 76% of the population survive on less than 100 Rupees a day is a harsh reality which cannot be wished away. Can we hold our hand on our heart and sincerely say that financial engineering, rocket science and nuclear wizardry are truly created to enhance the wellbeing of the poorest of the poor.

    I need to reread “Small is Beautiful” by British economist E. F. Schumacher

    • IanF 2 minutes ago in reply to humanunderdog

    It is NOT a moot point if rocket science and nuclear “wizadry” as you call it is the need of the hour. Indeed there can be no doubt that there is a DIRE and pressing NEED for nuclear energy and the benefits of the Indian space program can only be overlooked by the most obtuse. How do you propose to supply electricity to millions of homes without generating it first ?? How do you provide basic services like telephone, education etc to a million plus villages without satellite technology ???

    Your questions are ridiculous and you assumptions even more so. To claim that just because there are poor people in India, Indians don’t deserve to have affordable electricity or Internet or TV or telephone services is at best condecending blather and at worst a cheap attempt to hide envy.

    As to John Elliot’s article about “India has shown in recent months that it is not capable of efficiently managing mega events, planned or unplanned, despite economic growth of approaching 9%”. again this is total and utter nonsense. If India can hold free and fair elections for over 1 billion people, an exercise that is in all terms a “mega event, planned or unplanned” over and over again, please don’t tell us that we can’t take care of a natural calamity.

  16. Nay..this is the time for India to scale up its nuclear related work. India should buy more reactors now as right now it is a buyers market. Jaitapur, i have always maintained should have at least 10 reactors not 6.

  17. I may sound unpatriotic if I agree to this assessment. Fact of the matter is it is frighteningly true. Commonwealth games are not the same as Nuclear power plants. We can’t think of doing a Jugaad in the Nuclear plants. Jugaad will backfire badly.
    I feel we are wasting our resources by constantly reinventing
    While we could become a powerhouse by adopting the available best practices and improving on them. It may sound odd to point out this in this discussion. This is the crux and a gap in our management skills. I leave it for discussion. One thing, I don’t want Jugaadbazi in some areas.

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