Chavan holding meetings to arrive at “widest possible political consensus”
The government is actively considering the changes in language suggested by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the controversial Clause 17 (b) of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill 2010, official sources said.
This follows a meeting Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan had with Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley here on Monday. It is among a series of meetings Mr. Chavan is holding with various parties to try and arrive at the “widest possible political consensus”, as mandated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The BJP, it is learnt, suggested four alternatives — sending the bill back to the Standing Committee, removing Clause 17(B) altogether and placing it in the contract between the operator and the supplier, while the other two relate to changes in language. The government, the sources said, had rejected the first two altogether but was actively considering the changes in language suggested by the BJP.
The BJP's preference, apparently, is for the Standing Committee version, minus the offending “and” connector between 17 (a) and 17 (b), where 17 (b) reads “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.”
The party's second preference is for tweaking the Cabinet version by adding “or” in 17 (b) so that it is placed between “the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employees” and “done with the intent to cause nuclear damage, and such act includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.” This, of course, would negate the government's attempt to let the supplier off the hook but, as government sources said, doing so would make it difficult to get any supplier at all.
Mr. Chavan said Clause 17 (b) in the Indian draft legislation went further than any formulation in the law of any other country. For, this bill created essentially to provide for civil liability, “pushes the frontiers” and ventures into the territory of criminal liability. This, he said, was done keeping in mind the experience of the Bhopal gas tragedy — in that case, the former Union Carbide Chairman, Warren Anderson, had been let off.
The Minister also said that no other country, not even South Korea, had a Clause 17 (b)-type provision. In the Korean version, the formulation “Where nuclear damage is caused by the wilful act or gross negligence of a third party, a nuclear operator who has provided compensation for nuclear damage … shall have a right of recourse against such third party, provided however, that where the nuclear damage occurs due to the supply of material or services (including labour) for the operation of a nuclear reactor …, the nuclear operator shall have a right of recourse only insofar as there has been a wilful act or gross negligence by the supplier of the materials concerned or by his employees” is modified by “If in the circumstances described in Paragraph 1…, a special arrangement has been made regarding rights of recourse, such agreement shall govern.”
On the concerns of the Left parties over Clause 7 (1), Mr. Chavan clarified that as far as nuclear plants that were “not under safeguards” were concerned, there would be no insurance, as that would involve inspection of such facilities by a foreign insurer (the liability limit now is so high that only a foreign insurer can cover it) … Instead, the government would take on all liabilities itself. “The government,” he said, “has the right to declare some installations are not to be covered by insurance.”