India is angling to build a $300-billion transnational power grid to exploit the huge hydroelectric power generation of its neighbors. But if it's past record in making friends (or dams) comes into play, it may have a long road ahead.
According to India's Mail Today newspaper, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma pitched for the project Thursday at the sixth ministerial council associated with the South Asia Free Trade Agreement, saying, "India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan have a combined hydropower potential of 200GW, of which more than three-quarters is yet to be harnessed."
Of course, given India's rapidly growing economy and notorious electricity shortage – about 12 percent already, and slated to get worse – most of that power would be headed from India's “near abroad” back to the mothership. And money would be going the other way.
But if the Economist's assessment is correct, India's near neighbors might think of it as another mother-word altogether. Forget about free trade, the sarky Brits write, India's neighbors only supply about 0.5% of India’s imports, and consume less than 4% of its exports. Moreover, “the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, is an irrelevance” thanks to India treating its neighbors, “by turns, with negligence and high-handedness.”
Could a power grid change that? It might help, or it might not.
India is already building dams in Bhutan that from the looks of things when I was there formed the country's only economic activity, apart from tourism. It's got dozens planned for its own domestic proto-colonies, such as Arunachal Pradesh, in the Northeast part of the country. It already sells electricity to Nepal, despite its own deficit, and it hopes to build dams for power generation there, too.
But virtually every dam in the region – both within India and abroad – faces serious opposition due to concerns about the displacement of people, destruction of local cultures, and damage to the environment.