New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Thursday assured the Centre would act with utmost precision and consideration towards the people of the country, after it was reported that the government will attempt a dilution of the Nuclear Liability Bill (NLB) to suit the needs of the US government and American firms interested in taking bilateral nuclear commerce with India forward.
“Let me tell you very frankly that what is in a note put up on Cabinet or on Cabinet on Security is not something on which I will at all be inclined to say anything until such time that there is free exchange and discussion within Cabinet,” Khurshid said.
“Please be assured that whatever we do and whatever we have done has been through the utmost care and consideration for the consumers in our country and the people of our country,” Khurshid added.
Khurshid reiterated that there was no question of going back on the Parliament’s stand, and that negotiations with the United States of America were a two-way street in which both sides have continuously attempted to put forth their stance vigorously so as to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
“When governments take decisions, they take decisions both on law and perceptions because you are dealing with people. That is the reason why you need to confer, you need to discuss (and) sometimes debate and only then come to a conclusion,” Khurshid said.
“I can only say, at this point, that little snatches of information might be gathered outside from what government thinking is. It would be unfair to speculate and it would be unfair to come to any conclusion, which may or may not be warranted,” he added. Khurshid also assured that there was not intense pressure on India from the United States of America, and repeated that the country’s interests were at the core of the government’s agenda.
“For anyone to think that India would, in any way, not be vigilant, careful and committed as far as our interests are concerned—the interests of the Indian consumer is concerned and (as far as) the Indian industry is concerned—is completely misplaced,” Khurshid said.
“I am not prepared to say that there is intense pressure. When you negotiate, there is a meeting of minds or an attempt of meeting of minds, (where) you put your point across vigorously, and the other side puts their point across vigorously,” Khurshid said.
The External Affairs Minister explained that talks with the United States have been prolonged because the Centre has strongly wanted a solution in the best interest of the country.
“We have been convinced and we have tried to convince them that whatever basis we have of our agreement there is adequate scope for them to get the protection they legitimately deserve—and further conversations with us will be able to prove this point. This is the reason why these matters have taken such a long time,” he said.
According to reports, a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) note suggests that prior to his visit to the United States to attend this year’s UN General Assembly session and to meet President Barack Obama on its sidelines, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears to be keen to have a diluted version of the NLB signed.
The diluted NLB reportedly overlooks several key factors, including security concerns. According to a television channel, the CCS note details plans to bypass the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a move that has raised questions.
Another channel said that the UPA Government has sought the opinion of Attorney General GE Vahanvati on the extent of the suppliers`` liability. Reports say that the government is keen on attracting huge foreign investment through nuclear commerce, and is therefore, under huge pressure from the United States to strike deals with American reactor builders like GE and Westinghouse, who see India`s market for nuclear equipment as worth 175 billion dollars.
To facilitate this, the Indo-US nuclear agreement was signed in 2008. It reversed a 34-year-old US ban on supplying nuclear fuel and technology to India. In 2010, Parliament passed the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, which creates a liability cap for nuclear plant operators for economic damage in the event of an accident. It also leaves nuclear suppliers free of most liability.
Critics and activists say that nuclear operators and suppliers should be jointly and absolutely liable for civil damages in the event of an accident, and that their financial liability must be unlimited. Potential nuclear equipment suppliers, including the United States, say India’s nuclear liability law is too stringent. They have particularly objected to clauses allowing the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India, which operates all the nuclear plants in India, to seek compensation from nuclear suppliers in case of an accident due to faulty equipment.