Govt. defers tabling of nuke liabilities bill in Lok Sabha
Observing the strong protest of opposition and left parties over the proposed Civil Liabilities for Nuclear Damages Bill, the government has reportedly decided to not to introduce it in Lok Sabha today.
Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), the main opposition party and the leftist – Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) and Forward Block – had already expressed their objection over the proposed bill which has been drafted the ceiling compensation of Rs.300-crore to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant in case of any nuclear accident.
The protesting parties had indicated that the nuke liabilities bill would not been passed in the lower house in any circumstances as the government has not sent it to Parliament Standing Committee and the drafted compensation cap is against the interest of the nation.
The proposed bill is drafted in the interest of nuclear suppliers, they accused government saying that there is no provision of fine over the supplier in case of accident. The accident can also take place due to malfunction of the materials, they argued.
"It is a blatant attempt to protect US suppliers from claims of liability and compensation. Even if there is a manufacturing defect which causes a nuclear accident that can affect the lives of people, there is no liability for the supplier," said left parties in a joint statement opposing the legislation.
The clauses of the bill are so devised as to practically make it impossible to assign liability to the supplier," statement added.
However, according to drafted bill that was approved by the Union Cabinet on November 20, 2009, the overall compensation under the nuclear liability legislation has been capped at Rs 2,300 crore. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) that runs all the nuclear rectors in the country has set to pay up to Rs 500 crore, while remaining amount will fall on the Indian Government's head.
The foreign suppliers having 26 percent stake will be liable only when it would be proved that the accident is caused by the malfunctioning of the material supplied by them.
On the other hand, there is also a provision in the drafted bill that the operator would not be liable for any nuclear damage if the incident were caused by grave national disaster of exceptional character, armed conflict or act of terrorism.
But according to environment activists, the amount of Rs.300-crore is also a meagre amount for any nuclear damage and also the violation of the fundamental right of the common people.
They are giving the example of Bhopal gas tragedy held in 1991 due to release Union Carbide in which thousands of people died and more than that suffered from long-term health problems. Those were compensate by Rs. 2,200-crore which was also not the adequate amount viewing their losses.
They feel that the limiting of the liability at Rs 2,200 crore is gratuitous and cannot be prior determined. It can be much more than the set limit.
On the contrary, government is keen to pass the bill before the next meeting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to US President Barak Obama scheduled in April.
According to government, there is need to pass this bill for completing the 123 civil nuclear pact with US as the private companies in the US are not willing to sell any nuclear equipment to India without such a law in place.
Defending the bill, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "It's necessary to integrate India with rest of the world in terms of civilian nuclear energy."
For valuing and justifying the losses, the bill has proposed to set up a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission which will have one or more claims commissioners for a specified area. According to legislation, the claims commissioner shall have all powers of a civil court for the purpose of taking evidence on oath, enforcing attendance of witnesses, compelling the discovery and production of documents and other material objects.
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