Its passage is crucial to operationalise the nuclear pact with U.S., says Government.

The Government has scheduled for Monday the introduction of a Bill in the Lok Sabha limiting compensation in case of a nuclear accident. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties have resolved to oppose the Bill and seek its referral to the Standing Committee for closer scrutiny.

“I don't think they should try to force through the Bill. In case they try to get it passed amidst the din in the Lok Sabha as they did with the Commercial Benches of High Courts Bill, we will ask that it be referred to the Select Committee when it comes up in the Rajya Sabha. It violates constitutional validity according to many jurists,” said Communist Party of India leader D. Raja.

The BJP, the Left parties and environmental organisations are opposed to several clauses, including compensation from foreign companies in case of an accident. They are also against another clause that frees operators from any liability if the accident was due to grave national disaster of exceptional character, armed conflict or act of terrorism.

The passage of the Bill is crucial to operationalise the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement and allow the entry of private U.S. companies which have already been assigned land for a nuclear park. France and Russia have also been informed of land being earmarked for their companies and the Bill will also benefit them, said Department of Atomic Energy Secretary Srikumar Banerjee.

The Government is keen to get the Bill passed to tie the loose ends of the India-U.S. agreement from New Delhi side following reports that the U.S. has concurred on Indian sensitivities on the reprocessing aspect. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be leaving for Washington to attend a summit meeting on nuclear non-proliferation and could interact with U.S. President Barack Obama on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.

Agencies reported Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury as saying the Opposition would seek to examine in the Standing Committee clauses such as limiting the liability amount in case of each nuclear accident to Rs. 300 crore. “At the introduction itself we will oppose unless the government assures us that it would be sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee. All these issues are there and we will discuss all that in the standing committee,” Mr. Yechury was quoted as saying by PTI.

The Opposition also feels several other provisions of the Bill need to be discussed and clarified which should be done by the Standing Committee. These include the proposed Nuclear Damage Claims Commission and a time limit of 10 years for claiming relief.

Sorabjee's note

The Left leaders refer to a note by jurist Soli Sorabjee for Greenpeace to support their contention that the draft Bill violates constitutional provisions. “Any such move [to limit compensation] will be in defiance of Supreme Court judgments and will be contrary to the interest of people of India and their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution,” he wrote.

Correction

The sixth paragraph of this report was "Agencies reported Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury as saying the Opposition would seek to examine in the Standing Committee clauses such as limiting the liability amount in case of each nuclear accident to Rs. 300 crore." The figure should have been Rs. 500 crore.

More In: National | News