VISAKHAPATNAM: Former Energy Secretary and convener of Forum for Better Visakha, E.A.S. Sarma has expressed concern over the move to introduce the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill as it was ‘a highly objectionable law’.
In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday, he said that the proposed bill was to cap the liability arising on account of a nuclear accident, presumably to encourage foreign companies to invest in India on nuclear power projects. Evidently, those companies do not wish to face the risk of having to compensate without a cap for a nuclear accident on account of imposition of absolute liability. “As a citizen, I feel highly concerned about this disconcerting move on the part of the government to please the foreign investing companies at the expense of the people at large,” he stated.
Power plants based on nuclear reactors were prone to accidents that could result in extensive loss of life, expose thousands of people to radioactive poisoning cutting across generations and cause radioactive contamination of land, water and air across large stretches. Since early 1950s, as many as 23 major nuclear accidents were reported, four of them taking place during the last five to six years. The extensive damage caused by the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in erstwhile USSR in 1986 are still fresh in our memory, Dr. Sarma pointed out. When the UPA government signed the Indo-US Nuclear agreement, as expected, the first outcome of the agreement was that the government had readily yielded to US overtures to allow the import of reactors for setting up two nuclear power plants, one at Kovvada in Srikakulam district of the State and another in Gujarat.
The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill would evidently restrict the liability to a very small proportion of the total likely damage that is not acceptable in any civilized democracy. Dr. Sarma said he was aware of the surreptitious way in which the government had earlier tried to obfuscate the liability incurred by Union Carbide in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, just to facilitate the company’s takeover by Dow Chemicals. The instant case of a cap on nuclear liability seems to him to be more insidious than it. The intent of the Bill was clearly repugnant to the Directive Principle in Article 48A on environment enshrined in the Constitution.
“I am surprised that the government has not so far cared to consult the Ministry of Environment and Forests in its decision to go ahead with such a people-unfriendly and nationally undesirable legislation. The concept of “capping” liability was in direct conflict with the Fundamental Right defined in Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution,” he said and wondered whether the Ministry of Law had looked at the legality of this concept!