Another kill bill clause for nuke non-liability

Provision to take over “full liability” of nuclear installation defeats its very purpose


Prasanna Mohanty | August 28, 2010

For the fourth time, the government has played mischief with the nuclear liability bill.

The BJP completely missed it and the Left realize the mischief only partly when the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 was passed in Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Surreptitiously, the government added a new line to clause 7 that talks about government’s liability in case of nuclear disaster. This says, “Provided that the Central Government may, by notification, assume full liability for a nuclear installation not operated by it if it is of the opinion that it is necessary in public interest”.

This one line defeats the whole purpose of the bill, which is to fix liability of the operators of nuclear installations and the suppliers of nuclear equipments. In fact, it kills the bill.

This is how:

By taking over “full liability” of the installation, the government is completely absolving the operator of any liability. This much is clear. By not defining “public interest” nor specifying conditions under which a nuclear installation can be take over, the government provides sufficient leeway to absolve the supplier of liability too.

Besides, once a nuclear accident happens (only then the question of taking over full liability comes to play), how is one going to define “public interest”? A nuclear accident, or any accident for that matter which has an wider ramification, becomes a matter of public interest!

The government’s intentions may be different, as some may argue, but here is a law that says very unambiguously that the liability can be taken over by the government. This means, liability will be paid by the tax payers – the victims of nuclear disaster and the rest of us.

In effect, this makes the nuclear operator to operate on the premise that profits are its own, liability is that of Indian people.
The Left got it and even moved an amendment to withdraw it but it didn’t realize the full implication of the provision. Blinkered as its vision is, Basudev Acharya of the CPM said his party is opposed to this new addition to the bill on two grounds. One, this makes way for private operators and second, it means subsidizing liability of private operator.

The Left is off the mark because the entire bill is meant for private operators since all existing nuclear installations run by the central government bodies don’t and haven’t needed a bill to fix liability or award compensation. In case of an accident, the central government has “unlimited” liability.

Moreover, “subsidy” is partial liability while the bill says very specifically of “full liability”.

The BJP, of course, seemingly missed it. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a member of the parliamentary standing committee that examined the nuclear bill, couldn’t explain, when asked, why his party didn’t protest against the latest mischief. May be his party leadership knew it and put up a charade of opposing “willful”, “intent” etc added to link liability to the suppliers while working out a deal with the government in private for other spin offs.

Prabir Purkayastha, founding member and secretary of the Delhi Science Forum, who was consulted by the parliamentary panel that went through the bill, rings an alarm bell.

“It is a very dangerous provision as it gives a complete free hand to the government to take over the operator’s liability and thereby, defeats the larger purpose of the bill”, he says. He says by not defining “public interest” and not providing the conditions under which the government can take over the liability, this can be done through an executive fiat which is a “dangerous” situation to have.

It would be interesting to watch how Rajya Sabha reacts to it when the bill is take up for passage on Monday.




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