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Updated: June 17, 2010 03:59 IST

Bill meant to safeguard U.S. firms, says Karat

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Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat . Photo: Vipin Chandran
The Hindu
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat . Photo: Vipin Chandran

The Manmohan Singh-led government is under pressure from Washington on the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill and the proposed legislation bears the handiwork of the U.S. nuclear industry lobby. Hence it must be scrapped.

This was stated by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat in the latest edition of the party organ, Peoples' Democracy

He said both the bill, which is being scrutinised by a parliamentary panel, and the Bhopal episode brought out some class truths and underscored need to draw lessons from the 1984 gas tragedy.

“If there are lessons to be learnt from the tragic episode of Bhopal, it is that there should be strict laws, which will assign civil liability and ensure that criminal liability is also pinned down. There can be no compromise with the lives and safety of the Indian people to appease the commercial interests and profits of foreign and Indian big business. The first step towards ensuring this will be to scrap the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill,” he said.

Referring to the class truths, he said the first was that the Central government of the day and successive governments served the interests of big capitalists and corporates; for the ruling classes and their political representatives the 20,000 people who died and tens of thousands who were physically affected were poor and expendable, with the judiciary also reflecting it, and the class outlook could be seen in the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill.

The bill, he said, was meant to safeguard the interests of the U.S. companies that would supply reactors to India. In the event of a nuclear accident, they were to be exempted from any liability to pay compensation for the damage caused.

“What Westinghouse and General Electric want is that even the limited liability that accrued to the Union Carbide in the case of Bhopal [$470 million as per the settlement approved by the Supreme Court] should not fall on them.”

The government had tried to obfuscate the issue by arguing that a foreign supplier could be liable if such a clause was included in the contract between the operator and the supplier. “If the law is passed, if there is a faulty design or a manufacturing defect in a reactor supplied by a U.S. company, the operator or the victim of an accident has no right to claim damages from the supplier.”

On the Rs. 500-crore liability cap on the operator, Mr. Karat said it had been put because the government wanted to bring in private operators in the nuclear sector and the law would limit the liability of Indian or foreign private companies that operated reactors.

On the government argument that it wanted to accede to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, and access to international funds, he said the Convention was favoured by the U S. Only 13 countries had joined it and of these, only four had ratified it.

“The government should answer why it does not go by the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability, which does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. Further, it also allows countries to operate their independent liability regimes.”

Drawing attention to the BP oil spill in the U.S, he said, the powerful oil lobby got the U.S. Congress to put a cap on the liability of oil firms for the damage at $ 75 million and now efforts were on to raise the cap to $ 10 billion or to leave the scope for unlimited liability.

Mr. Karat said that for no more recurrence of Bhopals and Warren Andersons, the government should make Dow Chemical that has taken over Union Carbide pay all the costs for cleaning up the Bhopal factory site and the environment. As for the Group of Ministers on it, he said it included Ministers who wanted to absolve Dow of all such responsibility. “This will be an acid test of the government's intention.”

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