New Nuke Deal: A New Beginning With Old Scars?

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The United States of America has finally convinced India to limit nuclear liability for US-based nuclear suppliers. India’s dependency on nuclear energy to meet the ever-growing energy demand along with a tragic past that is stained with the death of some thousand citizens back in 1984 during the Bhopal industrial accident makes nuclear energy a necessary evil for the country.

The prime accused in one of the worst industrial tragedies in the world, Warren Anderson, died last year without facing a trial. For many years, the US has been trying to portray India to be too rigid about its stand on nuclear liability. The argument that has been given to justify the investors interested in streaming in capital into a power-hungry India is that the authority supplying nuclear fuel and reactor components is subject to criminal procedures if there are quality issues with the supplied material. Consequently, this provision is said to dampen the international investor sentiment which is otherwise in favour of a competitive entry into the Indian market.

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had banned Indian generic drugs because of quality issues. In fact, it has been pushing India to ease its patent’s regime favouring heavily the manufacturing of generic drugs. India’s position has been called as going against the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of the scientific breakthroughs and innovations of the global pharmaceutical companies.

Similar concerns over the quality supply made the European Union ban five types of fruits including mangoes and vegetables in 2014. The ban is supposed to end this year.

Quality, thus, has been as much a matter of concern for India as it has been to the global community involved in trading with each other. Moreover, what needs to be understood is that the nuclear liability law criminalises faulty or defective supply of equipments and does not endanger the supply chain per say.

There is still a lot of ambiguity regarding the exact nature of limits of the liability clause of the US suppliers. Does it mean that suppliers are indeed exempt of criminal procedures against them in the wake of an industrial disaster? Or does it entail the transfer of risk assessment to commercial operators? In the first case, there is nothing to celebrate for Indians, who live with the haunting memories of Bhopal without justice. In the latter case, there remains doubt as to whether the commercial interests of the investigating agencies, US-based Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi, both global nuclear suppliers, can be glanced over.

Pallavi Ghosh

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