‘It was a policy decision taken at a time when no other country came forward to sustain India’s nuclear capabilities’

The Centre on Thursday justified in the Supreme Court waiver of the nuclear liability agreement with Russia for the Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu and said it was a policy decision taken at a time when no other country came forward to sustain India’s nuclear capabilities.

Making this submission before a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman denied the allegation of Prashant Bhushan, counsel for petitioners, that the Government had signed the agreement to appease Russia.

Mr. Nariman said: “It was a major policy decision by the Government of India considering the prevailing circumstances at the time. It is stated that after the 1974 peaceful nuclear experiment at Pokhran, India was placed under international sanctions for all nuclear-related supplies. We continued our indigenous efforts in developing nuclear energy, however, we were subjected to an international technology denial regime. Under these circumstances, it was the erstwhile USSR, which had come forward and had offered to supply large capacity VVER 1000 MWe to India. This was a huge step in sustaining our civilian nuclear capabilities.”

Denying the allegation that in view of the nuclear liability waiver safety considerations had been compromised, counsel said the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), in the case of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), “has taken all mandatory licences and clearance from all the requisite statutory authorities.”

“Apart from these clearances, the KKNPP has been reviewed by an expert group constituted by the Government of India for the ‘safety of Kudankulam nuclear power plant and impact of its operation on the surroundings’, which was headed by Dr. A.E. Muthunayagam.”

Mr. Nariman said, “This expert group, in its report of December 2011, has observed: ‘From the exhaustive analysis given above it is concluded that there need to be absolutely no concern among the public living around KKNPP and the operation of the nuclear power station would not certainly give rise to any deleterious effects among people’.”

He said three villages were within the Sterile Zone of the KKNPP — Kudankulam, Vijayapathi (Idinthakarai) and Irrukkandurai. “As per 2001 census, the population residing within the SZ consisting of these three villages is approximately 23,960 and not 40,000 as alleged by the petitioner. The population residing within SZ has been taken care of while preparation of the Emergency Preparedness Plan of the KKNPP site.” He denied that the KKNPP suffered from any issue that need to be resolved before the plant could be commissioned and sought dismissal of the petitions which raised safety concern of the plant.

Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, appearing for the Ministry of Environment and Forests, said that on April 19, 1989 the then Prime Minister had approved an exemption of the 500-metre norm from the high tide line for the Kudankulam project subject to the MoEF prescribing and ensuring sufficient safeguards for preserving the ecology of the beach and these safeguards had been put in place.

He argued that insofar as establishment of a desalination plant [for desalination of seawater being used in the plant) no fresh environment clearance was required as the said activity would not come within any one of the 29 specified activities in the 1994 environmental notification. At this juncture, Justice Radhakrishnan observed that this stand of the Centre might create a problem. “In future somebody may take a stand that no permission is required for establishment of a desalination plant.” He told Mr. Parasaran to get a clarification from the MoEF whether such permission was required or not.

When Mr. Prashant Bhushan alleged that there were people living within the two km radius of the plant, Mr. Parasaran said, “No one lives within two km as a boundary wall has been constructed at two km away from the plant.”

Justice Radhakrishnan, however, asked the ASG and Additional Advocate General Guru Krishna Kumar, who appeared for Tamil Nadu, to verify this aspect and if it was found that people were residing within two km radius, there should be a proper rehabilitation plan for accommodating them in alternative sites and they should be paid adequate compensation. Mr. Parasaran said this would be verified and suitable steps taken for their rehabilitation, if any. Arguments will continue on November 6.

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