The Bill proposes to make the operator liable for any nuclear damage caused in a nuclear accident. It also seeks to cap the compensation to be paid by an operator at Rs. 500 crore
Government is ready to “look into” any genuine and sincere issues the opposition may raise over the Nuclear Liability Bill which it wants to be passed urgently, failing which the entire atomic power generation programme would be delayed.
Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is in-charge of Department of Atomic Energy, said the country lacks a law under which compensation could be awarded in the case of a nuclear accident.
This is particularly important considering the fact that India is gearing up for a massive expansion of its nuclear—power sector and is in talks with US, Russia and France for setting of their reactors here.
“They (opposition parties) have the draft Bill. Let them suggest, we will look at it,” Mr. Chavan said when asked whether the government was ready to revisit the proposed legislation in view of stiff opposition by BJP and the Left.
The two parties had forced the government to decide against introduction of the Bill in Lok Sabha on March 15.
The Opposition parties are objecting to the compensation cap of Rs. 500 crore on the operator and allege the government is letting the foreign suppliers off-the-hook.
BJP also apprehends that through the legislation, the government is trying to enable foreign private companies to enter India’s nuclear market.
On behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has already met BJP leaders to clarify any doubts regarding the Bill.
Asked the reason for the urgency to get the Bill passed by Parliament, Mr. Chavan said “the nuclear power programme will be delayed” if the proposed legislation is deferred.
Official sources maintained the Bill had been drafted after careful consideration of all aspects and studying such laws prevalent in other countries.
The government wants the Bill to be tabled in Parliament so that any genuine and sincere issues could be addressed, either in the Standing Committee or during the debate.
“The Bill has been drafted after careful study of global nuclear compensation conventions. Basic principle in all these conventions is that there is strict liability on the operator only,” they said.
Officials said the Bill also secures the nuclear power plant operator’s right to recourse if a nuclear accident has resulted from wilful act of gross negligence on part of the supplier of the material or equipment or his services.
The BJP has been contending that since the government would be the operator there should be no cap on compensation.
It also wants the 10-year limit within which the victim of an accident has to make the compensation claim.
The government maintains that these cannot be changed.
On the cap issue, the officials noted that compensation limit is even lower in China as also in France.
The Bill proposes to make the operator liable for any nuclear damage caused in a nuclear accident. It also seeks to cap the compensation to be paid by an operator at Rs. 500 crore.
The second tier of compensation amounting to Rs. 2,100 crore is to be met by the government. If more compensation is to be paid, the government can tap into an international fund set up under the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The passage of the Bill is a pre-requisite for India to be part of the CSC.