Defends inclusion of clause providing protection to supplier

The government's inclusion in Clause 17 (b) of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 of a phrase that will make it virtually impossible for the operator of a nuclear facility to seek compensation from a supplier, top government sources told The Hindu, had been inserted as, otherwise, it would be almost impossible to get anyone to supply nuclear technology/ products to India.

These sources stressed that without some protection for the supplier, at best “Russia and France will come…People don't realise that you cannot force a supplier to supply technology.” The unsaid part was – that the U.S. may not be willing to sell nuclear technology unless India's domestic law protects the supplier.

So, though the offending “and” connector between two sub clauses in the controversial bill have been snipped off, the addition in Clause 17(b) by the government now ensures that the operator will have to prove the supplier had “intent” to cause nuclear damage to get any compensation from the latter. However, these sources, admitting that the inclusion of the “intent” phrase could be negatively interpreted by the Opposition parties, said: “If there are serious objections to the inclusion of the ‘intent' phrase from the Opposition, the government is willing to drop it.”

Need for clean energy

Simultaneously, these sources acknowledged that given the urgent need for clean energy – which nuclear power would provide – the deliberations relating to this bill had been shrouded in too much secrecy. A debate conducted in public might have better explained India's difficulties in seeking nuclear technology and products, they said.

The government sources, vigorously defending the draft law, said that after the most recent set of amendments, the bill was the strongest of similar existing domestic laws anywhere in the world. “The government proposed changes in the bill after studying the Science and Technology Parliamentary Standing Committee's Report, the evidence that was placed before it, deliberations within government, similar laws across the world and particularly, the “very useful suggestions that came in from the BJP and the Left Parties.” The Prime Minister, these sources said, was “determined to have the broadest possible political consensus. We are ready even now to improve on the bill.”

Over the next few days, government managers will be working overtime to ensure that the BJP and the smaller parties – the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – will back the bill, when it is placed in the House next Wednesday.

Left parties' stand

As far as the Left parties are concerned, government sources said, they understood their compulsions: “Clearly, after almost bringing down our government on the India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement, they can't be seen supporting this bill. But if they don't press a vote, we will consider it a major success.” On Saturday, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta told The Hindu, “significant changes have been made in the bill – and there are now no major roadblocks. But we will take a final view after studying the fine print.”

The government's prime concern, these sources said, was to “put in place a system that would restrict the sort of irresponsible behaviour seen in the Union Carbide case,” by placing affected persons at the heart of the bill. Indeed, while the government has been emphasising its concern for possible victims of nuclear accidents, the Opposition's focus has been on ensuring the liability of the supplier.

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