Note: The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 should not be referred to the standing committee on energy. Ideally, a new Parliamentary Committee on Inter-generational Equity should be formed and the matter with regard to possible Nuclear Damage should be referred to it.
In the meanwhile, the Parliamentary Petitions Committee can be approached for the interim period. The committee is headed by 1. Shri Anant Gangaram Geete. Other members of the committee include: 2 Shri Rajendra Agrawal, 3 Shri Khiladi Lal Bairwa, 4 Shri E. T. Mohammed Basheer, 5 Shri N.S.V. Chitthan, 6 Shri Gurudas Dasgupta, 7 Shri Dip Gogoi, 8 Shri Devendra Nagpal, 9 Shri Jagdambika Pal, 10 Prof.Ram Shankar, 11 Shri Sathyanarayana Sarvey, 12 Shri Rakesh Singh, 13 Dr. Sanjay Sinh 14 Shri Kabir Suman, and 15 Shri Joseph Toppo.
It has been noted that The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 addresses the issue of liability of private operators of nuclear plants. It caps the liability of any incident at SDR 300 million (approximately Rs 2100 crore at current conversion rates). The maximum liability of any single operator is capped at Rs 500 crore. The liability of any damage beyond this level will be borne by the central government.
A good report from it to the parliament only has persuasive value. Therefore, a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Inter-generational Equity alone would be useful, if its recommendations are binding, in dealing with the possible Nuclear Damages.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates). The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010.
Currently, Canada is seized with a Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act wherein the bill raises the cap on liability to $650 million from the $75 million limit established in 1976. The damage from Chernobyl is estimated at some $250 billion. In Germany, there is no cap on nuclear liability but an operator must be able to cover at least $4 billion but the civil liability is estimated at Euro 2000-5000 billion.
India's Nuclear Damage Bill remains flawed because it does not include full accounting of information disclosure, damage coverage and for risk costs as costs of production. It only pays lip-service to precautionary principle and there is no mechanism to verify as to whether the nuclear power is indeed compatible with sound economy and sustainability.
Amid protest, Nuclear Liability Bill introduced in Lok Sabha
The contentious Nuclear Liability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 7th May amid protests and walkout by Left and NDA members, who termed it “illegal, unconstitutional and anti-people.”
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, which provides for payment of compensation in the event of a nuclear accident is a pre-requisite for U.S. nuclear companies to enter India, and an enabling condition for their French and Russian counterparts.
The Bill, whose passage is essential to operationalise the nuclear deal with the U.S., was moved by Minister of State in the Department of Atomic Energy Prithviraj Chavan. It provides for a maximum liability of Rs. 500 crore on the part of the operator in case of an accident. The provision, the Left and NDA members say, puts a cap on compensation and violates the rights of a citizen guaranteed under the Constitution.
In the event of an accident, countries are also entitled to compensation of 300 million special drawing rights. However, to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, India will have to ensure that it has a national legislation, consistent with the provisions in the annexure of the Convention. Now India is not a party to any international nuclear liability convention.
As Mr. Chavan sought permission from Speaker Meira Kumar to introduce the Bill, CPI(M) leaders Basudeb Acharia and Ramchandra Dome, BJP leaders M.M. Joshi and Yashwant Sinha and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said legislation would violate Article 21 that guarantees the citizen's fundamental right to life. They said the Bill also compromised the right of victims to approach court for enhanced compensation.
Mr. Sinha, a former External Affairs Minister, alleged that the Bill was being introduced under the U.S. pressure. The compensation proposed in the Bill was a pittance in comparison with that ensured by the U.S. laws: in the U.S., there is a provision for compensation to the tune of Rs. 60,000 crore, 23 times higher than Rs. 2,600 crore proposed by the Bill.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said her party had conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Bill should be amended, but the government was “adamant” on introducing it in its present form. Dr. Joshi said the Bill was against the law laid down by the Supreme Court, which stipulated that the polluter must pay for the damage, and did not factor in the concerns over the environment and possible health hazards. Till now, a victim had the right to “unlimited liability,” but the proposed legislation would put a cap on compensation.
Leader of the House and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal argued that the members could not speak on the merits of the Bill at the stage of introduction, but could refer to the legislative competence of the House.
There was no protest from Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. They had opposed the Bill in March, when the government made the first bid to introduce it.
After the Left and NDA members staged a walkout, the Bill was introduced.
Later, Mr. Bansal told journalists that the Bill would be brought for consideration in the monsoon session. “It will go to the standing committee concerned, which will deliberate upon it in the next two months. I hope it will come up with a report in the monsoon session.”
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