Removes "and" between clause 17 (A) and 17 (B)

The government was in damage control mode on Friday — the Union Cabinet snipped off the offending word “and” between clause 17 (A) and 17 (B) of the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010.

Thus, it restored the operator's right to seek compensation from the supplier and approved the draft bill with 18 amendments, ready to be tabled in Parliament next Wednesday. This was in deference to the demands made by the Opposition.

Simultaneously, the government deployed Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan to clear the air on the bill and reject Opposition allegations that the bill was designed to take on board the U.S.' interests. “Some [people] have expressed apprehensions,” Mr. Chavan said, “that this bill was designed to address or benefit a particular country. It's totally wrong. I deny it emphatically.”

Mr. Chavan stressed that the concerns of the Opposition — particularly that of the BJP and Left parties — were taken on board by removing the word “and” in clause 17.

He said: “Clause 17 is now largely the same as before the amendment made by the Standing Committee. But we have also strengthened it by adding that the operator can only start any legal process with the supplier after compensation has been paid to the affected persons.”

Mr. Chavan was at pains to underscore that the experience of Bhopal had taught the government the need to put in place the strongest possible pro-victim law. He pointed out that the bill had the provision to increase the compensation amount from time to time.

Congress leaders said that BJP leaders were the most cooperative, especially as they sensed that opposition to the bill was unlikely to pay any political dividends, as the 2009 elections had demonstrated. The UPA is now dependent on the BJP to get the bill through, as the Left parties, whose concerns have only been partially addressed, are still holding out.

The committee had recommended that clause 17 should be read as “the operator of a nuclear installation shall have the right of recourse where — (A) “such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing” and (B) “the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.”

With the removal of “and,” the operator was free to pursue the supplier and he could do so even if there was no separate contract between the operator and the supplier, Mr. Chavan said.

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