"It will help avoid kind of situation that followed the Bhopal gas tragedy"

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, when adopted by Parliament, will avoid the kind of situation that followed the Bhopal gas tragedy, as it will provide victims with immediate compensation in the unlikely event of an accident in any nuclear installation.

Soon after the standing committee report on the bill was placed in both Houses of Parliament, committee chairman T. Subbarami Reddy explained to journalists the rationale behind the first cap of Rs.1,500 crore in compensation, even as he rubbished the suggestion that the entire nuclear energy programme was geared to pleasing the United States.

Among the possible suppliers of nuclear products to India were several countries, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, France, Australia and Korea. Mr. Reddy also pointed that 28 countries generated nuclear energy for civilian use.

“Since the second compensation cap stood at 300 million Special Drawing Rights (approximately Rs.2,200 crore), the first cap had to be somewhere between the Rs.500 crore initially suggested in the bill and the second cap. After members of the committee felt that the first cap was too low, we raised it to Rs.1,000 crore and then agreed to further raise it to Rs.1,500 crore. But the Left parties' demand for a first cap of Rs.10,000 crore had no logic,” Mr. Reddy said. The higher the cap, the more the government (read the taxpayer) would have to pay for insurance, he said.

Unlike what happened after the Bhopal gas tragedy, this bill, when enacted, would ensure compensation to be paid through a Claims Commission “within three months,” without taking away the constitutional right of victims to appeal to higher courts if the compensation was seen inadequate.

At present, there is no legislation safeguarding citizen's rights in the event of a nuclear mishap. Since this sector was wholly operated by the government or companies owned by it, it was understood the government was liable to pay compensation.

Mr. Reddy insisted that the report was “almost unanimous” with 26 of the 28 members concurring, and “only two dissent notes, one each from the CPI(M) and Forward Bloc members.” And, he said, “most of the major points made by the Left were also incorporated in the report. We tried to build unanimity in the best interests of the country.”

The committee completed its work in record time, with 15 sittings and 70 witnesses — including several secretaries to the government, experts, NGOs, and trade union representatives — giving oral evidence. Suggestions were also invited from the public. The committee visited the Tarapur and Kalpakkam nuclear plants. “We were given two months to finish the task by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, and we managed to complete our work with an extension of a month, then another week,” Mr. Reddy said.

He reckoned that the bill would help the government proceed with the task of setting up nuclear plants for energy the country badly needed. “In two to three decades, the country will need 700,000 MW. More than 40 crore people have no electricity at all. The government can now go ahead with its ambitious plan to generate 40,000 MW of nuclear power as against the current capacity of only 4,500 MW.”

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