N-Liability Bill: Govt for reasonable changes, BJP doubts intent

Centre said it was ready to consider changes to liability bill to end stalemate over its passage.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: Under attack from Left and Right for some proposed amendments in the Nuclear Liability Bill, government on Monday sought to reach out to BJP but the main Opposition party said it doubts the "intent" behind the move and could not commit support unless the changes are dropped.

Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan met Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley to discuss the issue over which the BJP and Left parties are angry and are threatening to oppose the bill when it is taken up for consideration in Parliament later this week.

Chavan said that there were three formulations of clause 17 (b) - as stated in the original bill, the standing committee report, and the official amendment approved by the Cabinet - and the government was willing to accept any of these or consider any proposal of modification brought by the Opposition.

"We are prepared to discuss any formulation with modifications and consider any suggestion," Chavan said.

After the meeting, Jaitley said he had told Chavan that BJP wanted restoration of language in Clause 17(B) suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee that examined the bill and then his party would think about its support.

The opposition parties are crying foul after the Union Cabinet on Friday last cleared 18 amendments, including the one which deals with a clause on liability of a supplier in the event of a nuclear accident.

The controversial amendment to Clause 17 (B) makes it clear that an operator of a nuclear plant can seek damages only if an accident has occurred due to the "intent" of the supplier or its employees.

"Go back to the Standing Committee on language of Clause 17(B). After that we will see (on support)," Jaitley said as having told Chavan.

The Standing Committee had recommended that Clause 17(B), while talking about operator`s recourse to damages from supplier, should read 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."

However, the government amended the sub-clause to read as -- "the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employees, done with the intent to cause nuclear damage, and such act includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services."

BJP said the change raises question over the "intent" of the government. It accused the government of trying to "hoodwink" the nation by trying to bring in amendments to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, that would let foreign suppliers off the hook.

"It will be very difficult for BJP to support the bill unless the government relents and brings back original proposed legislation," said BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is a member of the Standing Committee.

Chavan said he will continue his interactions with political parties Tuesday and reach out to Left parties as well.

He expressed confidence about passage of the bill "with support of major parties".

The minister said that clause 17(b) goes further than laws of 28 countries who have a civil nuclear regime in place, and brings in criminal liability. "None of the regimes has criminal liability in their law," he said.

He said the country has witnessed the Bhopal gas leak case and the government had agreed to several amendments to improve the original legislation.

He said the official amendment to the clause as approved by the cabinet was "distilled wisdom" of the provision contained in the original bill and the standing committee report but the government was willing to consider any amendments.

He said that any such amendment accepted by the government during discussion on the bill in the parliament can be got approved by the cabinet, post-facto.

-Agencies inputs

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