Nuclear liability bill set to be introduced in LS tomorrow

A crucial bill that provides for compensation in case of a nuclear accident is slated to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Sunday, a move that is expected to give more fodder to the Opposition to attack the government.

Updated: Mar 14, 2010, 11:41 AM IST

New Delhi: A crucial bill that provides for compensation in case of a nuclear accident is slated to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Sunday, a move that is expected to give more fodder to the Opposition to attack the government.

The BJP and the Left parties have already indicated opposition to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill that is key to operationalise the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal.

The Bill pegs the maximum amount of liability in case of each nuclear accident at Rs 300 crore to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant.

However, the draft bill also has provisions that would enable the government to either increase or decrease the amount of liability of any operator.

"At the introduction itself we will oppose unless the government assures us that it would be sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee," CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury said.

The BJP is also understood to have expressed concern over the Rs 300 crore limit in the liability of the nuclear power plant operator.

"All these issues are there and we will discuss all that in the standing committee," said Yechury when asked about the Rs 300 crore limit.

Reports had it that the government was keen on getting the Bill passed in the ongoing budget session itself.

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon had met BJP leader Arun Jaitley to brief him about the Bill, but the main opposition is yet to have all its concerns addressed.

Jaitley is understood to have given a list of queries regarding the Bill to Menon but was yet to get any reply.

The Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet on November 20 last year.

According to the provisions in the draft legislation, the operator would not be liable for any nuclear damage if the incident was caused by "grave national disaster of exceptional
character", armed conflict or act of terrorism and suffered by person on account of his own negligence.

Former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman and key
architect of the Indo-US nuclear deal Anil Kakodkar feels that
the liability limit is optimum.

"It was important that this amount was not kept too low.
I think this is the appropriate and reasonable level," he said
adding that it was "quite balanced and needs to be passed in
its present form".

The Bill also provides for establishment of Nuclear
Damage Claims Commission which will have one or more claims
commissioners for a specified area.

The claims commissioner shall have all powers of a civil
court for the purpose of taking evidence on oath, enforcing
attendance of witnesses, compelling the discovery and
production of documents and other material objects.

Environment activists have described as a violation of
fundamental rights the proposed attempt to cap the level of
compensation to victims of a nuclear accident.

"Under Article 21 of the Constitution, there is no
warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability," noted
jurist Soli Sorabjee said in his opinion to Greenpeace.

"Any such move (to limit compensation) will be in
defiance of the Supreme Court judgements and will be contrary
to the interest of people of India and their fundamental
rights under Article 21 of the Constitution," he said.

Issues relating to the remaining steps of the nuclear
deal -- reprocessing pact and civil liability legislation --
are expected to be key points in Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh`s agenda when he meets US President Barack Obama on the
sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit next month.

After award of compensation, the operator has the right
to appeal in three cases, one of which is when he argues that
the incident resulted from "wilful act or gross negligence" of
a supplier of material, equipment or services.

The right to claim compensation has a limit of 10 years
from the date of incident. The exception is of stolen, lost,
jettisoned or abandoned nuclear material, where the period is
increased to 20 years.

The government is expected to argue that the legislation
is necessary as the Atomic Energy Act that governs the nuclear
power sector is silent on compensation.

Several insurance companies also do not cover injuries
caused due to radiation.

The state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India that
operates all atomic power plants in the country has set aside
Rs 500 crore to meet compensation requirements in case of a
nuclear incident.