The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has come out with a National Policy on Biofuels. The objective is to substitute some percentage of fossil fuel with bio fuel, in order to protect environment and create employment through propagation of second-generation bio fuels. The policy envisages implementing these ideas through a framework of technological, financial and institutional interventions and enabling mechanisms.
In the post Copenhagen scenario, it becomes essential for India to adhere to the issue of climate mitigation through appropriate policy interventions. In addition to solar energy, bio fuel is another area that needs to be addressed as a priority sector. The new policy prescribes that by 2017 the ministry will be in a position to supply bio fuels to meet the demand. It also aims at the target of 20 per cent blending of both bio diesel and bio ethanol by 2017.
The two main goals of the bio fuel policy is to produce bio-ethanol and bio diesel in large quantities to replace some portions of fossil fuel based petrol and diesel in the ever growing transport sector. Bio- ethanol will be produced form biomass like sugar producing substances and cellulose materials such as bagasse, wood waste, agricultural and forestry residues. Bio diesel will be produced by acids produced from vegetable oils, both edible and non-edible.
The new bio-fuel policy clarifies that the huge demand for bio diesel will be met from non-edible crops. Considering rising prices of food crops, the policy aims to avoid the conflict of food vs. fuel. It states: "The Indian approach to bio fuels, in particular, is somewhat different to the current international approaches, which could lead to conflict with food security. It is based solely on non-food feedstock to be raised on degraded or wastelands that are not suited to agriculture, thus avoiding a possible conflict of fuel vs. food security."
The new bio-fuel policy clarifies that the huge demand for bio diesel will be met from non-edible crops.
However, the craze for bio fuel through planting of Jatropha plantations has met with disastrous consequences on both ecological and economic fronts. Ecologically, the monoculture plantations have created havoc with micro ecosystems and economically it has become unviable due to high labour and input costs.
The energy experts who drafted the policy assume that the large stretch of wastelands in the countryside is a resource that has to be tapped for growing second-generation bio fuels. However, in reality, these waste lands, also known as CPRs (common property resources), are already performing an important function to feed the energy and nutritional security of millions of rural poor. The vulnerable communities like livestock herders; landless agricultural laborers will be negatively affected by appropriation of CPRs.
The policy addresses the issue of National Energy Security, but in the process discards the energy security of those millions of people who depend on the CPRs for their survival. In contradiction of what the policy implies, a relevant Planning Commission document states: "The Common Property Resources (CPR)…constitute the most important input for livestock production and subsistence for the poor. These are under depletion and degeneration affecting the livelihood security of the poor".
|The core features of the National Policy on Bio-fuels:
- Bio-diesel production from non-edible oil seeds in waste /degraded / marginal lands
- An target of 20% blending of bio-fuels, both for bio-diesel and bio-ethanol, by 2017
- Minimum Support Price (MSP) for non-edible oil seeds with periodic revision
- Minimum Purchase Price (MPP) for purchase of bio-ethanol and bio-diesel with periodic revision
- Major thrust on R&D with focus on plantations, processing and production of bio-fuels, including Second Generation Bio-fuels
- Financial incentives, including subsidies and grants, may be considered for second generation bio-fuels. A National Bio-fuel Fund could be considered.
- A National Biofuel Coordination Committee, headed by the Prime Minister, will be set up to provide policy guidance and coordination.
- A Biofuel Steering Committee, chaired by Cabinet Secretary, will be set up to oversee implementation of the Policy.
- The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) will be the co-ordinating Ministry for biofuel development and utilization.
- An Indo-US MoU has been signed on biofuels with focus on joint R&D, particularly on second generation biofuels.
The policy states that in addition to motivating farmers to grow bio fuel, the government will also "enable corporates to undertake plantations through contract farming by involving farmers, cooperatives and Self Help Groups etc in consultation with Panchayats" and that the production of non-edible oil seeds will be supported through a Minimum Support Price.
Clearly, the intention is to facilitate entry of Corporates into the bio fuel sector with ample assurance of the support price to produce bio diesel and bio ethanol. It is ironical that the government that is unable to provide support price for the basic food crops is willing to provide fiscal incentives to grow bio fuel.
Another pillar of the policy, mainly growing of raw materials for ethanol on large-scale plantations needs to be treaded with caution. Many plants, which have been identified as second generation agro fuels, harm environment with invasive species adversely affecting the biodiversity. There is also the apprehension that it paves the way for the entry of genetically modified tree crops and non-edible crops in the name of developing bio fuels.
It is ironical that the government that is unable to provide support price for the basic food crops is willing to provide fiscal incentives to grow bio fuel.
The most astonishing aspect of the policy is that it speaks the language as has been spelt out in the Indo US treaty on energy signed during the last India visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obviously, there is a close link between what has been incorporated in the bio fuel policy and the corporate interests that are eying the hinterland for raw material production for the second-generation bio fuels. It is pathetic that both our agricultural and energy sectors have become convenient laboratories for conducting the corporate experiments.
Analysis of the bio fuel policy reveals that conceptually it is based on very narrow parochial approach that ignores the broader linkages of energy issues. Developing any bio fuel on a large scale needs to be done on a balanced approach with least negative impact on the livelihood of common people.