“We are not opposing the bill for the sake of opposing it”

The government and the Bharatiya Janata Party seem to have conceded some ground to each other on the proposed nuclear civil liability bill in the process of trying to arrive at an agreed text.

The BJP's earlier stance was that the government was paving the way to bring in private players as nuclear plant operators and limit their liability. And if this sector was not to be opened to private players, the bill was not needed. This view was repeatedly articulated by Arun Jaitley and other senior party leaders.

However, on Wednesday, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj conceded “such legislation is indeed needed, but it must be India-specific.” She also said the party would accept the government's assurance that there was no plan for opening up the nuclear sector to private operators.

The government that had capped liability at the first level at Rs. 500 crore was now prepared to consider the Opposition demand for “unlimited liability” to be administered entirely through a claims commissioner, instead of splitting up the liability at two different levels.

“If the bill is re-drafted and shown to us, if it is India-specific, we can agree to it. We are not opposing the bill for the sake of opposing it; we do need such a law,” Ms. Swaraj said. She added her party did not think there was any need for India to contribute to and become a member of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. “We can set up our own fund. We have suggested that.”

She said during the meeting after “listening to us,” Mr. Mukherjee said “there could be some meeting ground.”

The government indicated it was ready to hold a similar dialogue with the Left parties, but they, it said, seem to have taken a “political decision” not to support the bill.

The government rejected a suggestion by the Opposition it was in a hurry to get the bill through Parliament ahead of the visit of United States President Barack Obama. “We have to get the bill through. That is our responsibility, as it is also to try and take other parties along. We need the bill and that is recognised by the Opposition too. What has that to do with Mr. Obama's visit?”

As he came out of the meeting with Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Jaswant Singh said the BJP cannot be “hustled.” He conceded that a national law was necessary and nuclear civil liability arising should cover any accident — not only new nuclear plants but also existing ones as well as those in the strategic sector.

Mr. Bansal said the government was making an effort to get the BJP on board, but primarily the power and responsibility for drafting the bill rested with it.

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