Plans To Amend Nuclear Liability Law?


Should Such An Amendment Be Encouraged At All?

The clauses of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, have hitherto prevented the implementation of the civil nuclear deal between India and the United States of America.

Section 17 of the The Civil Liability For Nuclear Damage Act states: “The operator of the nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for the nuclear damage in accordance with section 6, shall have a right of recourse where—

(a)    Such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;

(b)   The nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of a supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services;

(c)    The nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of an individual done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.”

Recently when the matter of the liability on the part of the supplier in the event of an accident, as dictated in this clause, was presented to Goolam Vahanvati, the current Attorney General of India, by the Department of Atomic Energy, he said, “Section 17 (a) provides for recourse if such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing. If the operator chooses not to incorporate such a provision in the contract, it would be open for him to do so.”

Although American nuclear equipment companies like Westinghouse and General Electric  had long been wishing to have this particular clause amended, India had stuck to the opinion of the non-dilution of this clause. Now, with AG Goolam Vahanvati’s statement, an effective path can be paved for amending this clause, and foreign suppliers can be invited without the fear of being held responsible for any accidents or damage that may be traced back to the equipments supplied.

This will, hence, right off the concerns that American companies have been having, and will in fact accommodate them, riding them of any responsibility.

Could Dr. Manmohan Singh’s upcoming visit to the United States on 27 September have been a reason to push for the amendment of the Act?

This has also received a lot of criticism from the Opposition. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Prakash Karat said, “If the government wants to succumb to US pressure (to clinch a deal), I am afraid they will be shown as having done an illegal act which will be against the interests of the country.”

Communist Party of India National Secretary D Raja said, “The government is consciously going ahead to satisfy the US and dilute the laid-down law and now that has been exposed.”

If the act is amended, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which is the sole operator of nuclear power plants in the country, will be able to limit the liability of the suppliers. Considering it is a public sector undertaking and so answerable to the parliament, giving a free pass to the suppliers of the equipment is really questionable.

If the so called stringent liability law is accommodated, these foreign reactor building companies could be looking at an India market that would yield at least 175 billion dollars. No wonder, India is under pressure from the US.

Clearly, if an accident were to transpire under such conditions, it will be the taxpayers who will be left to pay large sums that such a disaster would curtail. And, from the last nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, we can already gauge the damage it is capable of stirring.

In a note for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), DAE Chief RK Sinha is pushing for the government of India to approve funding for the preliminary contract for the deal to go through.

But after much controversy over  the same, the Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid said, “The existing Nuclear Liability Act will not be diluted in any way. There is no retreating from the position we have taken in Parliament.”

The question still remains however. Will we or won’t we?

Smriti Sharma

Should the government dilute a law that safeguards the interest of its own people, even if it is being pressurized? Write in your opinions in the comment box below.

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