Decks cleared for N-bill passage in Parliament

Parliamentary panel presented its report to pave a way for early enactment of N-liability law.

Updated: Aug 19, 2010, 00:30 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Paving the way for early enactment
of nuclear liability law, a Parliamentary Committee today
presented its report that addresses major concerns of BJP as
it recommended provision for "clear-cut" accountability of
suppliers for any mishap involving an atomic plant.

The report of the Standing Committee on Science and
Technology was tabled in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha amid uproar
created by parties like RJD, SP and Left which alleged that
BJP had struck a deal with government in return for a clean
chit to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Sohrabuddin
fake encounter case.

The government is keen to get the legislation through before US President Barack Obama visits India in November as it is a prerequisite for implementing the 2008 India-US civil nuclear deal.

The report has notes of dissent from CPI(M) and Forward
Bloc, which said that compensation cap was "extremely low" and
that the proposed legislation favours foreign suppliers.
The bill was referred to the standing committee after it was introduced May 7 during the budget session of Parliament.

With the submission of the report on the bill that is
crucial for operationalisation of India`s nuclear deals with
various countries, the proposed legislation is expected to be
passed during the current session of Parliament which ends on
August 27 but may be extended till August 31.

Among various recommendations, the Committee suggested
raise in the cap of compensation, to be given by the operator,
to Rs 1,500 crore from Rs 500 crore as provided in the
original bill, "specially keeping in view the present level of
inflation and the purchase value of the Indian currency."

The other amendments proposed in the Civil Liability for
Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 include extension of the period of
claim in the event of nuclear accident from 10 years to 20
years, creation of a Nuclear Liability Fund and making a
specific mention that the operator of an atomic plant will be
only the government.

To hold the supplier accountable, the Committee said
Clause 17(B) needed to be rephrased as "the nuclear incident
has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect,
supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or
services or from the gross negligence on the part of the
supplier of the material, equipment or services."

In the original bill, the Clause 17(B) said - "the nuclear
incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence
on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or
services, or of his employee."

The Committee observed that the words "wilful act or
gross negligence" mentioned in the original bill were "vague"
and "hence there should be clear cut liability on the supplier
of nuclear equipments/material in case they are found to be

The Clause 17(B) gives "escape route to the suppliers of
the nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees
as their wilful act or gross negligence would be difficult to
establish in a civil nuclear compensation case", it said.

This was a major cause of dispute between the government
and the opposition parties, which were alleging that it would
allow foreign suppliers to go scot-free particularly
considering that India would be receiving material and
equipment from foreign companies.

The panel`s report makes it clear that the operator should have a written contract with the suppliers providing for the right of recourse and says that an operator must compensate victims first and then settle liability with the supplier.

Private players eyeing a piece of the nuclear pie will, however, be disappointed as the report recommended shutting them out from the sector in India, leaving the operation of nuclear plants in the hands of the government or government-owned companies.

The committee has also suggested expanding the definition of nuclear damage by including the immediate and long-term health impact on a person and loss of life and personal injury, as also including the word "environment" as defined by the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Speaking to reporters, T. Subbarami Reddy (Congress), the chairman of the parliamentary panel, said the main objective of the bill was to provide for a mechanism of prompt payment of compensation to the victims in case of a nuclear accident.

The bill also provides for the appointment of a Claims Commissioner and a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission to dispose off claims within three months.

Stressing that the bill was needed to boost power production in India, he said the Left members had given a note of dissent but all other members backed the panel`s recommendations.

The committee, which completed its work after an extension of more than a month, heard about 70 witnesses, including secretaries of the government, NGOs, industry, trade unions, experts and insurance companies. The panel visited nuclear facilities at Kalpakkam and Tarapur and also invited suggestions through advertisements in newspapers.

-Agencies inputs