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Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill Deferred

Written By Gopal Krishna on Monday, March 15, 2010 | 4:51 AM

LIST OF BUSINESS of LOK SABHA (Serial No. 19) for March 15, 2010 shows that PRITHVIRAJ CHAVAN, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office was supposed "to move for leave to introduce" Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 "to provide for civil liability for nuclear damage, appointment of Claims Commissioner, establishment of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto." This was not done.

UPA government has been forced to defer the contentious Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. The bill was scheduled to be tabled in Lok Sabha today. The Opposition BJP and Left parties are opposed to it. The bill was included in the list of business for the day. However, the Opposition strongly protested against this and demanded to move a motion for the withdrawal of the bill from the agenda.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar said that the government does not intend to introduce the bill in the house today. Dr Manmohan Singh wanted this bill to be passed in Parliament ahead of his US visit in April 2010. 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.

This is a requirement of the 123 Civil Nuclear Agreement between India and the US.
MAJORITY PROBLEMS
Parties unlikely to back the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill
BJP: 116
Left: 24
BSP: 21
JD (U): 20
Shiv Sena: 11
AIDMK: 9
Rashtriya Lok Dal: 5
Telugu Desam Party: 6
Akali Dal: 4
Janata Dal S: 3
Telengana Rashtriya Samiti: 2
total: 221
UPA allies likely to back the bill: 271
'WILD CARD':
Trinamool with 19 seats
The Bill needs 272 votes to pass in the 543-member House
The UPA allies have 271 seats between them but within these, the Trinamool Congress with 19 seats is considered a wild card and the support of various independent parties is uncertain.

The Union Cabinet had cleared the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill on November 19, 2009 and passing the Bill will allow the country to join the international convention on civil liability for nuclear damage.

The Bill is designed to insulate suppliers from the risk of law suits by channeling legal liability for an accident entirely to the nuclear power plant operator and granting Indian courts sole jurisdiction over accident-related cases.

The Bill places a limit on the compensation to be paid in the case of an accident at a nuclear site and places responsibility for paying this compensation on the operator and not the suppliers or foreign companies installing the reactors in India (power plant operators, however, have a right of recourse against the suppliers).

Those who oppose the Bill say it has been designed to keep from the reach of Indian courts, American reactor suppliers who want legal protection from a Bhopal-type situation — where the victims of India's worst industrial accident filed multi-million dollar claims against Union Carbide Corporation in India and the US.

Several large American companies like GE and Westinghouse besides French major Areva plan to supply reactors to India.

The BJP’s opposition to the Bill is also based on the low liability level. Swaraj described the "Rs 500 crore limit" on the liability of private service providers in case of accidents as “offensively low”.

Nuclear power has been a contentious issue in India for several years. In mid-2008, the first UPA government faced and narrowly survived a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha after the Left parties, which supported the government from outside at the time, opposed the signing of a civil nuclear agreement with the International Atomic Energy Commission.

The agreement opened India to foreign nuclear technology subject to international monitoring and a separation of civil and military nuclear facilities sans genuine concern for public interest. The Left and several other parties objected to the latter two conditions.
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