Monday, March 15, 2010


15 March 2010



By R Rajagopalan/Jal Khamabta

NEW DELHI: Sensing the opposition parties re-uniting alike on price
rise, the government on Monday developed cold feet as it backed off
from introducing the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage
Bill, exempting reactor suppliers from liability in case of an
accident and limiting plant operator's liability too to only Rs 500

Minister of State for Science Prithviraj Chavan walked to the
Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha during Question Hour to convey
that the Prime Minister has asked him not to introduce the Bill in the
House in view of their strong sentiments but to hold further
consultations before taking it up in Parliament.

Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, followed by BJP veteran Lal Krishna
Advani, were miffed at the government withdrawing the Bill's
introduction without giving any reason when Speaker Meira Kumar
announced Chavan informing her that the Bill, though listed on day's
agenda at Item No 19, will not be introduced.

"The government has made the request and I have accepted it," the
Speaker asserted when the Opposition all prepared to jointly prevent
the Bill's introduction wanted to speak on it. She, however, cut them
short that she cannot allow them to speak on a Bill that has not been
yet introduced.

Nobody from the government was ready to state when the Bill will be
now brought before Parliament. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted it
passed before he goes to the United States in April for a meeting of
the nuclear countries convened by President Barrack Obama.

A top source in the ruling Congress said its President Sonia Gandhi
asked Manmohan Singh to go slow with the Bill in view of reservations
to the damage clause also from some within the party. She was
concerned that any attempt to push the Bill at this stage may
adversely hit the Congress-BJP-Left unity so vital for getting her
dream bill of women's reservation passed in the Lok Sabha after the
financial business is over in April.

The Prime Minister rang up Sushma Swaraj on Sunday and National
Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon personally called upon Rajya Sabha
Opposition leader Arun Jaitley to seek support to the Bill but without
success. Both suggested that at the most they will agree to reference
of the Bill to the parliamentary standing committee to examine it

On Monday, the main opposition BJP made its position clear that the
liability bill can come only if the government first amends the Atomic
Energy Act to allow private parties set up the nuclear power plants as
otherwise it would be unconstitutional to delimit liability of the
government that owns all such plants in the country.

The Bill is part of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal of 2006 and a
requirement of the 123 civil nuclear agreement between India and the
US as the American companies are not prepared to sell any nuclear
equipment for fear of unlimited liabilities in case of a nuclear
accident as happened with the Union Carbide accident in which hundreds
were killed in Bhopal 25 years ago.

While Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj insisted on the Chair putting a
motion before the House to allow the government drop the Bill since it
was already listed, Advani said the government has right to bring a
Bill or not but it is duty bound to the House to explain it has been
held up for fresh review. The Speaker, however, over-ruled them that
explanation is warranted only if a Bill is introduced and then

When BJP's Yashwant Sinha persisted with explanation in the post-lunch
session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal asserted that the
government's decision to introduce or not to introduce a legislation
can not be questioned in the House.

Sinha later told a Press conference that the liability law was
unconstitutional and not required when the whole nuclear business is
in the government's hand. He charged that the Bill is to help out only
two American firms, Westinghouse and General Electric, that supply
nuclear reactors to absolve them of any liability for defects that may
cause accidents.

The BJP leader also released a letter he had written to the Lok Sabha
Secretary General in the morning to allow him to raise the
constitutional objections before the Bill is introduced in the House.
The letter asserts that the Bill violates Article 14 and 21 of the
Constitution. The Bill violates principle of equality as enunciated in
Article 14 as it limits amount of compensation while law of the land
entitles the citizen to full compensation.

Sinha also quoted a Supreme Court ruling introducing the "polluter
pays principle" under which it is not the role of the government to
meet the costs of damages as the Bill stipulates but the concerned
industry has to pay the compensation to the victims of accidents as
part of their fundamental rights under Article 21.

Moreover, Sinha said the Bill limits the operator's liability to only
Rs 500 crores (US $109) and rather it not only limits the liability
but transfers a large part of the liability to the government. In
other words, the tax payer has to pay for any nuclear accident.

Sinha also pointed out that the same US government that is insisting
on this Bill has the Price Anderson Act that fixes the liability at
$12.5 billion which is 23 times higher than the liability being fixed
for an Indian operator. "Is the life of an Indian only worth a dime
compared to the life of an American," he asked.


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