“Any agreement in violation of statute or law is void,” says Bench

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Union government to explain whether an agreement with Russia to waive civil liability in case of an accident at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant would have an impact on the exchequer.

“Any agreement in violation of the statute or law is void,” said a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra hearing a batch of petitions filed by anti-nuclear activists for a stay on the commissioning of the plant.

Earlier, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the activists, pointed to an agreement India had signed to the effect that the Russian company would not be liable in case of an accident. Under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, the liability to the nuclear operator (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.) was limited to Rs.1,500 crore, he said. But even this amount was waived and the liability burden shifted to the exchequer. Even if this minimal liability was removed, the supplier would have no incentive to equip the reactor with safety features.

“Besides the exclusion zone, there must be a ‘sterilised zone’ of at least 10 km where, at the most, 5,000 people can reside. But more than 40,000 people live within a 5-km radius of the plant, including the 20,000-plus population each of Kudankulam and Idinthakarai,” Mr. Bhushan said. The environmental clearance obtained for the project in 1989 was not valid now, he contended, as it was covered by the 1994 Environment Impact Assessment notification, which required fresh clearance. Arguments will continue on October 11.