d4On Thursday the 15th of September, Somerville College and the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development hosted the Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Mr Dharmendra Pradhan, and his delegation as part of his visit to the UK. He addressed a gathering of Oxford academics on policy initiatives in India to increase access to clean energy and invited leading scientists to a question and answer session in the Margaret Thatcher Centre.

Accompanying Mr Pradham on his first visit to the OICSD and Somerville College was the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, Mr Dinesh Patnaik. Both Mr Pradham and Mr Patnaik sat on the panel alongside Research Director of the OICSD, Alfred Gathorne-Hardy and Principal of Somerville College Dr Alice Prochaska,

Mr Pradhan opened the discussion by underlining the policies of the government under leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for clean, reliable and affordable energy. Elaborating on the PM’s policy, he said that government wants to ensure individuals at the bottom of the pyramid have access to clean cooking fuel and electricity.

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From left: Mr Dinesh Patnaik, Mr Dharmendra Pradhan and Alfred Gathorne-Hardy

Mr Pradhan explained that the government is promoting compressed natural gas, piped natural gas and biofuels to replace biomass, coal and kerosene. He also mentioned new stringent pollution policies in the automobile sector and has decided to introduce new emission control standards, BS-VI, that will be in effect across India by 2020.

‘I particularly liked that from the beginning to the end of the talk Pradhan was embracing different disciplines,’ said Dr Alfred Gathorne-Hardy. ‘Energy is core to every aspect of sustainable development, so it is essential that we bring all the players that are involved to talk together.’

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Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith

In the question and answer session that followed, Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, Director of Energy Research, University of Oxford, led the discussion on how subsidising energy might affect the poor. Next, Professor Nick Eyre, Senior Research Fellow in Energy at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, spoke on the challenges of integrating renewable energy and new technologies to all Indian households. Professor Barbara Harriss-White, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, touched upon energy efficiency in transportation as well as raising issues surrounding agricultural waste and how new technologies could displace people’s livelihoods.

Dharmendra Pradhan has been Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas in the Indian Government since May 2014. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of parliament, and serves on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Government Assurances. A former General Secretary of the BJP, he has led the party’s efforts in various state elections, most recently being given charge of the campaign for the Uttarkhand election.

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Mr Pradhan started his political career as a student, rising to be national secretary of the All-Indian Student Council. He was subsequently elected national secretary of the BJP’s youth wing, and after a period serving in the Odisha state legislature and the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2012.

Upon his appointment to the cabinet in 2014, Mr Pradham said to the media that his focus ‘would be to meet the expectations of the poor and the middle-class people of the country,’ and that “the people of the country have large expectations from the new government and this government is dedicated to the welfare of the poor.’ He also said that ‘the Indian economy has an important role in the world economy, and [he] would endeavour to make contribution to this effect’. 

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The OICSD at Somerville College advances India’s sustainable development by bringing different academic disciplines and sectors together. It develops future leaders by supporting exceptional Indian scholars to study at Oxford; carrying out multidisciplinary research on sustainable nutrition, the environment and health; and translating academic progress to action on the ground.

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