Lok Sabha passes Nuclear Liability Bill

NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday gave its nod to the civil nuclear liability bill after 18 amendments were made to the proposed atomic law that triples the liability cap on an operator in case of an accident to Rs.1,500 crore from Rs.500 crore.

The legislation was cleared by the lower house after the government removed the word "intent" and amended a controversial clause stating that the operator will have the right to recourse in case of a nuclear accident if it was the consequence of an "act of supplier or his employees done with the intent to cause nuclear damage".

Moving the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan said the government has taken on board the amendments proposed by the opposition parties to the civil nuclear liability bill. The proposed law is critical for India’s nuclear deals with various countries.

Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday assured parliament that the civil nuclear liability bill did not compromise India’s interests and urged that the measure be adopted unanimously.

The prime minister told the Lok Sabha that his government was doing everything possible to strengthen safety norms for the operation of nuclear plants.

Pitching strongly for greater use of nuclear energy, he said that he shared the opposition’s concern over nuclear safety.

"We will do everything to strengthen the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Board. The concern over safety is one I share with the opposition," Manmohan Singh said.

Saying that India wished to use nuclear energy in a major way, the prime minister urged the house to pass the nuclear liability bill unanimously.

BJP today extended support to the civil nuclear liability bill but was critical of the "sleight of hand" of the government in drafting the law and its attempts to "hustle" it through in Parliament now now.

Initiating the debate on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha, senior party leader Jaswant Singh also asked the government to take the larger concerns of Indians on board and not those of a "smaller" US market.

Referring to various attempts by the government to introduce contentious clauses in the Bill on which it had to backtrack, Singh said the government was indulging in a "sleight of hand" by first introducing the word ‘and’ and later ‘intent’ in the draft bill.

"It is a sleight of hand and trickery. First there was and then intent. It is simpler and easier to take Parliament along," he said.

Opposition parties had contended that insertion of the word "and" between sub-clauses ‘a’ and ‘b’ of Clause 17 without the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s concurrence had sought to dilute the liability of the suppliers in case of a nuclear accident.

Similarly, they had also attacked the provision "intent" in the same clause with regard to suppliers or their employees role in an accident.

Referring to US President Barrack Obama’s oncoming visit to India this year end, Singh sought to suggest that the government was trying to "hustle" through with the legislation before the event.

"Why are you hustling the Committee, Parliament and the issue. It is otherwise a very important issue. India is not South Korea. We don’t have to follow their example," he said.

The former External Affairs Minister said while the government signed the agreement in 2005, it was rushing to get the Bill cleared in 2010 just before the visit of the US President Barack Obama.

Singh said his party would support the Bill if the government accepted its amendments. "Give us more candour," he added.

Jaswant Singh (BJP) said the genesis of the bill lies in the 2005 Indo-US nuclear agreement. "There is some hesitation to accept the parentage of the bill," he said.

He claimed that an "I owe you’ was signed on September 10, 2005 by the then Foreign Secretary whereby India committed to the US to buy a certain number of nuclear power plants.

"That ‘hundi’ has created problems now as they (US) are asking for money," he said.

He said since India is buying 40 nuclear power plants, it was "not in a weak position". Therefore, it should not allow the suppliers to dictate their terms.

The BJP leader, who as External Affairs Minister in the NDA government played a key role in furthering closer Indo-US ties, said New Delhi should further closer relations with Washington "as a resurgent and assertive India".

Singh said he did not think that anybody can compensate for a real nuclear incident. Nuclear accidents do not fall in the usual compensation pattern.

Raising another question, he said that 1650 MW plants would be used in India for the first time. "I don’t think they have been fully tried in any other country".

Singh also asked the government to consider the environmental aspects of the Act. He asked the Government for explanations on insurance and inclusion of the term "Special Drawing Rights".

Congress MP Manish Tiwari said the first initiatives for ending nuclear isolation were taken by Jaswant Singh when he held talks with Strobe Talbot.

"When Manmohan Singh took over as the Prime Minister, he only took that forward," he added.

Tiwari said India was not having a nuclear agreement with only the United States, but also with Japan, France and others.

He said that the Bill is important as India needs energy. "If India wants progress, then we have to have nuclear energy".

All the electricity units will be run by Indian companies. The Congress MP said that the Bill has been brought about as if there is any if there is any accident, then the victims will not have any problems getting compensation.

Reacting for demands for increase in the insurance cover, he said, in case there is any increase in the insurance cover, the cost of electricity would also increase.

"Even if clause 17 would not be in existence, no operator would make an agreement to take indemnification of liability".

Samajwadi Party leader Shailendra Kumar said liability should be fixed on both supplier and operator. "We have to bring development in the country that is why I think the bill is very important. "We had supported the government during the nuclear deal also".

He said it was important that the bill is accepted by all. "There is some confusion between the liability for the operator and supplier, this should be clarified".

BSP MP Gorakh Prasad Jaiswal said there was no need for a new Bill. "There is an increasing tendency to bring in new Bills".

"Awareness programmes should be held in places where the nuclear reactors would be set up," he said.

JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said the way the Bill has been brought about and from the efforts made by the government, people think that the government has been in a tearing hurry.

"Only a handful of people will benefit from nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is not a good thing. At least the government has tried to evolve a consensus," he said adding "I would not like to be an impediment. The government has already decided on the Bill".

Yadav said that the US government wanted to bail out its companies which had suffered massive losses due to the recession and thus was putting pressure on India.

"They (US) are powerful countries and they want India to kow-tow to them," he added.


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