Left to oppose legislation on civil nuclear liability; CPI(M) gives dissent note
With no fresh contact on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill between the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party — or for that matter any other Opposition party — it seems the issue may be resolved, if at all, during the discussion on the bill when it is taken up for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha. The bill is now the property of the House.
While the BJP said “it appears there is a deviation from the text that was agreed,” the Left made it clear that it would oppose the bill. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) did not agree with the text as approved by the BJP and other parties represented on the Standing Committee that considered the bill over the past three months. It had given a dissent note; and there was no question of it supporting the bill with further dilution of supplier liability. The changes in respect of supplier liability were “irrational and ridiculous,” D. Raja of the CPI said.
The Left party leaders also said the government seemed to have learnt no lessons from what happened after the deadly Bhopal gas leak.
S.S. Ahluwalia, a BJP member of the Standing Committee, was categorical that now whatever needed to be done had to be done on the floor of the House, not behind closed doors. “The bill is now the property of the House. Whatever changes are made now after the bill, with its proposed amendments, has been circulated to MPs, will have to be done during the course of the discussion on the bill. The government can move an amendment, the BJP may do so or any other party MP is free to move an amendment on the floor of the House…”
Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan confirmed to The Hindu that there was no contact with the Opposition leaders on Sunday. “We will be contacting them,” he said. For, well before the bill is taken up, the government will again try to hammer out an agreement with the BJP on any fresh amendment that may be worked out.
Since Monday and Tuesday are not working days in Parliament — there are no sittings on account of Onam and Rakshabandhan holidays — the earliest the fracas over the exact words to be used to pin supplier liability can only be Wednesday. At least two of the key players from the BJP — Yashwant Sinha and Sushma Swaraj — were both away in their constituencies, while Arun Jaitley told PTI: “We are examining all the papers. Prima facie, it appears there is a deviation from the text, which was agreed upon. The language as framed now substantially nullifies supplier liability.” He confirmed that there was no contact between the government and the BJP.
This was on Sunday, a day after the text of the bill, as approved by the Cabinet, began to be circulated among MPs Immediately there were protests, the strongest from the Left parties, that by introducing “intent to cause nuclear damage” as a condition for suppliers' liability, the government was again trying to let nuclear suppliers get away with almost no liability.
Open to concerns, says Congress
The Congress said on Sunday that the government was open to take Opposition concerns onboard to build the widest possible consensus on the matter.
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari termed the bill as “work in progress” and said the government had always been open to address the legitimate concerns on the draft legislation.
“It (bill) is a work in progress and I think if at all there are any legitimate concerns, the government has always been open and would be open to taking those concerns onboard because that is what is the essence of any Parliamentary democracy.” However, he made a distinction between criminal and civil liability and said that the Bill in question dealt with “strict civil liability.”