New Delhi: The controversial Civil Liability
on Nuclear Damage Act on Friday came under judicial scrutiny with the Supreme Court giving its nod to examine the legality
of the various provisions of the law on a PIL alleging
infringement of fundamental right to life of citizens.
"Issue notice only to the vires of the Act," a bench
comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and justices A K Patnaik
and Swatanter Kumar said while asking the Government to
respond to the PIL challenging various provisions of the
legislation contending that it did not cover the nuclear
"We will examine the validity of the Act, vis-a-vis
Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution," the bench
said while making it clear that it will not venture into any
other aspect as the issues raised in the petition about the
nuclear plants are "very scientific" in nature and it "does
not have the expertise to go into them".
"The issue is highly scientific. We are not competent.
This court doesn`t have the expertise to declare whether the
nuclear reactor is harmful or not," the bench said.
The PIL filed by the NGO, Common Cause and other public
spirited persons, also questioned the provision in the Civil
Liability on Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, which limits the
liability of the supplier for the nuclear reactor to Rs 1,500
crore for any disaster.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, also
raised the issue on the appointment of an independent
regulatory body to oversee nuclear plants.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati defended the law saying it
is for Parliament to look into the issue of safety aspect and
appointment of regulator.
Bhushan said there has been largescale agitation against
the setting up of new nuclear plants as there has been a
feeling that Government was giving false assurance on the
Bhushan said there has not been nuclear safety audit by
the independent authority and even the assurance given by the Prime Minister has not been complied with in the Act.
Besides seeking to declare the Act as "unconstitutional
and void ab initio," the PIL has sought direction to declare
that in case of a nuclear accident, all nuclear operators
and nuclear suppliers, would be jointly and severally, and
absolutely liable for civil damages, and their financial
liability would be unlimited.
The petition said the Act was not passed because of any
pressure from citizens, any mass demonstration for the need of a liability law nor did anybody feel the need to strengthen
the nuclear safety regime.
"Countries with whom India has signed nuclear deals like
US, France and Russia have pressurized our government to
purchase expensive nuclear reactors from suppliers based in
their countries," the PIL said adding that the process of
drafting of the Bill was initiated by Indian corporate
lobbyist organization FICCI.
Further, the Act channels all the liability to the
nuclear operator (which presently is the Government itself)
and the victims are not allowed any recourse to sue the
companies that supply nuclear reactors and other material.
The Act under Section 6 also limits the liability of the
operator to Rs 1,500 crore, which is quite low, and states
that the remaining damage may be made good by the Government at the exchquer`s cost. The Act also excludes the liability of the operators in certain circumstances, the petition said.
"Thus clearly the Act, by excluding the liability of the
nuclear supplier, violates the principle of `polluter pays`,