After first proposing a major dilution of the nuclear liability bill in favour of reactor suppliers, the government on Tuesday told a parliamentary panel it was withdrawing the suggested amendment.

Department of Atomic Energy Secretary Srikumar Banerjee expressed regrets before the Standing Committee on Science and Technology for circulating a note last week containing a proposal to delete clause 17 (b) of the bill. This provides for a nuclear operator to exercise a ‘right of recourse' against its suppliers in the event that an accident is caused by gross negligence on their part.

The U.S. has been lobbying the Indian government to remove this provision. Senior officials now say the amendment was part of an internal note and was not meant for distribution.

At the Standing Committee meeting on Tuesday, Opposition MPs asked Dr. Banerjee whether the amendments had been approved by the Cabinet.

He said that the circulation of the note was a “mistake” and that the amendment draft stood withdrawn.

Industry's plea

However, industry representatives from FICCI and CII in their submissions strongly argued in favour of deleting 17(b), expressing the fear that Indian suppliers of components to nuclear plants in the country might end up being held liable for accidents.

Pressure denied

Speaking before the committee, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao denied there was any U.S. pressure on India to adopt or amend specific provisions of the liability law.

She added that it was not just American suppliers but France and Russia too which wanted India to adopt a law in line with international norms. Others who deposed were the Union law, home and power secretaries.

Members of the Standing Committee had a number of questions on clause 46, dealing with the applicability of other laws dealing with compensation claims once the nuclear bill is passed.

They also questioned why the decision of the claims commissioner on compensation for victims, as provided by the bill, cannot be appealed even at the high court.

The Standing Committee will continue its hearings on Wednesday with testimony from independent experts.

Invited to depose

Those invited to depose include V.B. Coutinho of the Bar Council, G. Balachandran, M. Madhavan of the Centre for Policy Research, former AERB chair S.P. Sukhatme and Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu.

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