New Delhi: In a major development, the Union Cabinet on Friday cleared the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, and agreed to make the amendments suggested by the main opposition, BJP.
According to reports, the Cabinet also agreed to remove controversial word “and” from the text of the clause 17(a) and 17(b) of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, 2010.
The text of the bill was examined by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology for over two months and it presented its report to both the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
The report addressed major concerns of BJP as it recommended provision for "clear-cut" accountability of suppliers for any mishap involving an atomic plant and raise of compensation cap from Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,500 crore among various amendments.
However, the BJP had expressed objection to an amendment carried out in the final report of the Standing Committee, saying it dilutes provisions relating to "suppliers" obligations in case of an accident.
The BJP and Left parties have opposed the addition of the word "and" in the proposed legislation after Clause 17(a) dealing with the right of recourse of an operator of a nuclear plant and a subsequent sub-clause 17(b) that deals with the suppliers obligations in case of an accident.
The BJP has made it clear that if the government does not drop its proposed amendment, which it considers as harmful, it would itself move an amendment.
The Left and the BJP have stated that the insertion of the word “and” in the text of the original draft will give the suppliers a free hand from paying damages.
Owning to the pressure, the government then agreed to address the concerns raised by the BJP and the Left and promised to stick to the original version.
According to the BJP, the original agreed text read: Clause 17 of the bill allowed the operator of the plant to seek damages from the supplier if:
A) There`s a pre-existing contract on liability between them
B) Or if there`s gross negligence or wilful act by the supplier
But in the final draft, the word "and" was added between Part A and B. This, the BJP and Left say, makes supplier liable only if there`s a pre-existing contract with the government.
What infuriated BJP was a new page with the amendment that was stapled to the old page.
Furious BJP submitted an unsigned note to Minister of State Prithviraj Chavan to go back to the original, agreed text.
Union Cabinet’s clearance of the bill paves way for the bill to be tabled on the floor of the House either today or by this week.
With barely 10 days left in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the government is also keen to pass the bill. However, with the BJP extending its full support to the bill, the government is now confident of the smooth passage of the bill in both the Houses of Parliament.
Despite the government agreeing to make changes in the text of the bill, Left Front continues to stick to its old stand of opposing the bill in the best interest of the nation.
Reacting to the Union Cabinet’s clearance of the bill, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said, “We are happy that the controversial word ‘and’ has been removed but there are issues which need to be addressed. We continue to oppose the bill as it lacks clarity and on the issue of cap on compensation.”
The early enactment of nuclear liability law is crucial for operationalisation of India`s nuclear deals with various countries.