Nuclear scientist A. Gopalakrishnan, a strong critic of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, has alleged that the real intent of the measure, ‘diluted' by the Union Cabinet, is to provide foreign supplies total immunity from any liability and to help open up the Indian nuclear power sector to private business houses in due course.

“The three critical additions made by the Cabinet to the Opposition-approved draft is a signal that the government intends, in the near future, to let the private sector own and control nuclear installations by making suitable amendments to the Atomic Energy Act 1962,” the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board told The Hindu. As of now, the private sector can hold stakes in a nuclear plant owned by a “government company” up to 49 per cent of the share capital.

He said the ‘diluted' draft Bill, cleared by the Cabinet, included ‘substantial modifications and additions' which would hurt the interests of the Indian operators of reactors and jeopardise the right to compensation of potential victims of nuclear accidents. He pointed out that Clause 17 (b) was rewritten, at the Cabinet level, to read: “The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where the nuclear accident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employees, 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.” As a result, the victims would have to prove, to be eligible for compensation, that the supplier of the equipment had made the supplies “with the intent to cause nuclear damage.”

This, according to him, is an absurd clause aimed at misleading the public and Parliament. Usually, defective supplies resulted from negligence, lack of expertise, wrong design and poor quality control. The re-worked clause was non-implementable, and would only hand in immunity to the American suppliers against successful litigation, because the “intent to damage” could never be established.

Mr. Gopalakrishnan noted that the Cabinet had on its own added two clauses — 2(l) and 3(A). There was also an additional sentence at the end of 7(1): “…Provided that the Central government may, by notification, assume full liability for a nuclear installation not operated by it, if it is of the opinion that it is necessary in the public interest.” The real intent of these additions, in his view, is to enable the handing over of the nuclear industry to the private sector.

Victims' rights

Further, the Parliamentary Committee and the Cabinet failed to modify Clause 46 to strengthen the victim's rights to sue under other existing laws. The Opposition must insist that Clause 46 be modified as: “The provisions of this Act shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other law for the time being in force. Nothing contained herein shall exempt the operator and /or the supplier of any material, design or services, from any proceeding which may, apart from this Act, be instituted against such person, either in any Indian or foreign court.”

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