Obama ignores India, signs 9/11 health bill

The bill aims to compensate emergency responders sickened in rubble of 9/11.

Updated: Jan 03, 2011, 10:11 AM IST

Washington: Ignoring India`s concerns and veiled warning that it would drag the US to the World Trade Organisation, US President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill that would provide free health care to the first responders of the twin-tower terrorist attack in New York in September 2001.

Obama took some time off from his vacation in Hawaii to sign the bill that provides for a fund of USD 4.2 billion for the free health care to 9/11 responders, a portion of which is being raised by extending an increase in some categories of H-1B visa fee that would mainly affect Indian IT companies.

India has objected to such an increase. It also imposes a two percent levy on goods and services the US imports from certain developing countries, including India. An extension in increase in H-1B visa fee is estimated to cost Indian companies USD 200 million.

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had termed it as a retrograde step for greater trade engagement with the US.

"I was honoured to sign the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act to ensure that rescue and recovery workers, residents, students, and others suffering from health consequences related to the World Trade Centre disaster have access to the medical monitoring and treatment they need," Obama said in his signing statement.

"We will never forget the selfless courage demonstrated by the firefighters, police officers, and first responders who risked their lives to save others. I believe this is a critical step for those who continue to bear the physical scars of those attacks," he said.

The bill is named after James Zadroga, an NYPD detective who died of 9/11-related illnesses. "It was a bittersweet battle and this is a bittersweet victory," said Joseph Zadroga, father of James Zadroga.

"After a long, arduous path with several near-defeats, this bill is finally law," said Senator Charles Schumer, one of the key sponsors of the bill in the Senate and who was primarily responsible for adding H-1B visa fee extension clause in the bill, which was passed in the lame duck session of the Congress last year.

"At long last, the President`s signature has ended our nine-year struggle to address the 9/11 health crisis," said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, author of the bill in the House of Representatives.

"The Zadroga law will save lives and fulfils our moral obligation to care for those who rose to the defence of America in a time of war," she said.

"With President Obama`s signing of our bill ... it is clear that the government has not forgotten the thousands who have served and suffered," said Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

Officials in the Indian Commerce Ministry say that they are consulting with Law Ministry to present a string case before the WTO against the United States on this issue.

"The bill is a violation in spirit of the joint communiqué signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," said Som Mittal, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).

In August last year, Obama had signed into law the Mexico Border Protection Bill that had hiked the H1B and L1 visa fees till 2014. The Zadroga act extends the hikes by one more year.