"It appears UPA government is willing to sacrifice people's interests to favour U.S."
Seeking to broaden opposition to the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, the Left parties on Tuesday urged members of Parliament to take a stand against the measure, the introduction of which was deferred on Monday.
The Bill, the parties said, seeks a financial cap at 300 million SDRs (Rs. 2,142.85 crore), beyond which the affected people would not be compensated in the event of an accident, and limits the liability of the Indian operator of nuclear plants to Rs. 500 crore, with the government sharing the difference of Rs. 1,642 crore.
Charging the government with showing scant regard for people and compromising their safety and security, Left leaders, in a joint appeal at a press conference, urged the MPs to stand against the Bill.
“The government was in a hurry to ramrod the Bill through Parliament under U.S. pressure, and there is need to bring this serious issue into public domain,” said CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, flanked by A.B. Bardhan and S. Sudhakar Reddy (both CPI), Debabrata Biswas (AIFB) and Abani Roy (RSP).
Mr. Karat said the Bill was an outcome of the Manmohan Singh government's commitment to the United States to purchase 10,000-MWe reactors. The U.S. was seeking the legislation prior to the commercial sale of nuclear reactors, while similar agreements with Russia and France did not entail such conditions, he said, adding Washington had declared it was looking with great interest at the introduction of the Bill. “The government is aware of the difficult and protracted process to get $ 470-million compensation from Union Carbide [in the Bhopal gas tragedy case].” This was one-fifth of the amount required to look after the health of those affected and to eliminate the environmental damage, Mr. Karat said.
The Bill also went against the Supreme Court judgment that law did not accept any limit to liability and the party concerned should not only pay full compensation to the affected but also bear the cost of environmental damage that any accident might cause.
Emphasising that a nuclear accident would have unimaginable consequences, Mr. Karat suggested that the government send a delegation of MPs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, where even six decades after the nuclear attack people suffered genetic defects.
Rejecting the argument that the Bill would facilitate India's entry into an international nuclear liability regime, the CPI(M) leader said the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for Nuclear Damage, adopted in 1997, was signed by only 13 countries, of which only the U.S., Argentina, Morocco and Romania had ratified it so far.
“The Convention has not yet entered into force since it requires the ratification of at least five states with a minimum of 4,00,000 MWe of installed nuclear capacity,” the joint appeal said. Unlike the existing Paris or Vienna Convention, the CSC provided for complete protection to suppliers of nuclear equipment. “The Vienna Convention puts a minimum floor and does not cap nuclear liability. Germany, Japan, and Finland have unlimited liability, same as the existing law in India.”
“It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power plants and favour U.S. equipment suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice the interests of the Indian people.”