Kolkata: US treasury secretary Henry Paulson urged India to sign a civilian nuclear agreement with the US to help address the country’s energy shortage and cut pollution.
“It is a very important deal,” Paulson, on his first trip to India as a government official, told reporters on Sunday in Amtala in Kolkata. “I would encourage moving forward as quickly as possible.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government is fighting to overcome domestic political opposition to the 2005 nuclear agreement with the US.
Singh has told US President George W. Bush that he faces “difficulties” on the nuclear agreement, after resistance from the Central ruling coalition’s communist allies. Singh’s communist allies contend the accord will weaken India’s ability to follow an independent foreign policy and compromise its own scientific capability. They want the agreement to be delayed until it is debated in Parliament.
Backtracking by Singh may stall plans to buy reactors from General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Co. that India needs to help build 40,000MW of nuclear capacity by 2020, equivalent to one-third of current generation.
Singh has indicated he is prepared to forego the agreement to prevent the collapse of his government.
“I am a big believer in the role of financial services to empower people,” Paulson said in Kolkata, where he attended an event hosted by the Grameen Sanchar Society, which sponsors projects that aim to establish Internet kiosks and other technology in rural areas.
At the event, Paulson sought to focus attention on the 600 million Indians who, ICICI Bank Ltd estimates, lack access to savings accounts, insurance, and other financial services.
Paulson praised Financial Information Network & Operations Ltd, a Mumbai-based company that developed technology that links remote customers to urban financial companies through a biometric identification card.
The company was founded last July by a group of banks and insurance companies including ICICI Bank. Bloomberg