“There is a liability which needs to be resolved… [and] we have not seen that [Dow Chemicals] has been able, or responsible enough, to come around” despite the matter being in court for many years, said Rajan Bharti Mittal, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), during a press conference here.

Mr. Mittal, along with Amit Mitra General Secretary, FICCI, spoke to media during a visit aimed at promoting Track II discussions in the aftermath of the recently concluded United States-India Strategic Dialogue.

While noting that he was not familiar with the commercial terms of the acquisition by Dow Chemicals of Union Carbide Company — the entity responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 — he added, “I would say that any company that was going to do business… of such magnitude that can have loss of life which is very large in the sense that a village of a township could be wiped out, they need to be responsible… not only on their technology, but to see that their backup [insurance] is enough.”

However, he argued, such liability needs to be capped even if, in cases such as the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it may be difficult to allocate the liability to BP or some insurance company.

Yet Mr. Mittal hinted at the need to further resolve the liability associated with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Again drawing a parallel to the BP spill he said, “The President and the administration are saying ‘Let’s talk about it later. First fix it, then let’s talk about liability.’

Prognosis for nuclear liability bill

Mr. Mittal also touched upon the related question of the nuclear liability legislation that the Indian Parliament is considering, especially given concerns that the liability has been capped at a relatively low level. He said, “I think… there will be some adjustments and some tinkering will be done because there is a precedent.” He added that he had seen “many figures” for the amount of liability across the world and they could range from “around $30 million to almost a $1 billion liability”.

Discussing some of the key factors that could determine the outcome of the negotiations on nuclear liability Mr. Mittal said, “At the end of the day, [it will] depend on [the question]: Is private enterprise going to join hands on nuclear power generation? Because if the private [parties] are there it is very different [compared to a situation where] the Government of India is going to do it.”

He also threw his weight behind the idea of manufacturer liability in the event of gross negligence regarding the equipment supplied. Mr. Mittal said that his real concern was over what would happen when the government handed over nuclear power generation to private hands, arguing that “the manufacturers of nuclear power generation [plants] will have to take their responsibility… for $100 million, You cannot say, ‘I have a bad manufacturing situation, and the operator is to be hung for that.’” … If it is a manufacturing defect, you have to hold the manufacturers responsible as much.”

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