Cap on compensation in Nuclear Liability Bill too low: BJP, Left

The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left have decided to oppose at the introductory stage itself the Bill to cap liability in the event of a nuclear accident.

On Sunday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj asking for support to the Nuclear Liability Bill, Ms. Swaraj told him politely, but firmly, that her party was opposed to it in principle and could not accede to his request to reconsider its stand.

About a month ago, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon wanted to meet Opposition leaders Arun Jaitley and Ms. Swaraj.

“I could not make it to the meeting, but my colleague Arun Jaitley met him. We told him then too that the BJP was opposed to the Bill,” Ms. Swaraj said. In response to a question, she said her party was not consulted at the drafting stage of the Bill. No suggestions were asked for, and none given.

Hasty retreat

The Left parties too made their position clear ahead of Monday's efforts by the government to introduce the Bill. The government beat a hasty retreat when it saw the numbers in the Lok Sabha were stacked against it, as a result of a large number of MPs remaining absent.

The reasons for opposing the Bill from the right and the left of the political spectrum are similar — it violates Article 21 of the Constitution. The cap on the compensation to victims is too low and the Bill will allow foreign companies selling nuclear equipment to virtually go scot-free, while the liability will be on the government, hence the tax-payers. There were other objections as well.

Speaking for the BJP, Yashwant Sinha said the liability, sought to be capped at Rs.500 crore, for the operator was too low compared to international standards. Additional liability of $300 million also included trans-border liability and was, again, pitifully small. The Price Anderson Act in the United States capped liability at an amount 23 times higher than the sum the Indian Bill seeks to fix.

He also added that the Russians and the French were doing nuclear business with India without demanding this kind of legislation. Why should the Americans have any problem? His view was that two U.S. private players, Westinghouse and General Electric, were putting undue pressure and their government was backing them.

There cannot be a situation where the foreign supplier has zero liability, and the public sector and the Indian government have all the responsibility and the liability.

A.B. Bardhan of the Communist Party of India said, “We will oppose the Bill at every stage. The government was clearly bending its knees before the U.S. government.” His colleague Gurudas Dasgupta has been trying to coordinate the efforts of the Opposition parties. In this context, he met Ms. Swaraj as well as Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh. Mr. Dasgupta said the government was trying to violate the very basic principle of the polluter pays, and this had been upheld by the Supreme Court in various judgments.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Basudeb Acharia made it clear that his party was opposed to the Bill and would do its best to scuttle it at every stage.

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