India won’t budge on civil liability law

Any company will have to follow norms consistent with Indian law, says Sujatha Singh

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:09 pm IST

Published - September 21, 2013 03:13 am IST - NEW DELHI:

India will stick to its stand on two major issues — climate change and civil nuclear energy — when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House next Friday.

The Hindu had front-paged both attempts, to sidestep the Nuclear Liability Law and tweak India’s stand on climate-damaging refrigerant gases, that would have ensured business worth billions of dollars in the medium term for American firms.

During the Singh-Obama meeting, India will refrain from publicly airing its ire over American snooping of governmental and diplomatic e-mails as Brazil has done. Instead, India will be content with discussing it in meetings of a sectoral sub-group on cyber security, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told journalists here on Friday.

She said there would be no violation or dilution of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, especially its Section 17 b, which penalises foreign suppliers if an accident is traced back to faulty products or services.

On refrigerant gases, the Foreign Secretary said both sides would continue with their efforts at reconciling their opposing viewpoints in a Joint Working Group set up earlier this year “to meet the shared overall objective of reducing the impact of climate change on human activity while securing space for our development and economic objectives.”

India has resisted U.S. pressure to take decisions on replacing global warming refrigerant gases under the Montreal Protocol, with the alternatives advocated being up to 20 times costlier and mostly under patents by a few Western companies.

India and most developing countries want the developed world to fund their reduction of global emissions but it signed the latest G20 communiqué that supports technology transition of climate-threatening refrigerant gases to less climate damaging options through the Montreal Protocol which does not address such concerns in entirety.

India’s stand on both issues will effectively deny U.S. companies business opportunities worth billions of dollars had New Delhi relaxed its stand on climate change and the nuclear liability law.

Hoping that discussions on a commercial contract between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse will conclude successfully, Ms. Singh ruled out any tweaking of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act to smoothen the path for the American company.

“All contracts with foreign companies are subject to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act and rules. The contract has to be consistent with Indian law and there is no question of Indian law being violated or diluted.”

Asked if foreign suppliers will agree to India’s insistence on fastidious application of the law, Ms. Singh pointed out that any company, whether foreign or domestic, would have to follow procedures consistent with Indian law. “That is the bottom line,” she observed.

Questions had arisen after the Department of Atomic Energy asked the Attorney-General whether the NPCIL could waive its right of recourse against a foreign supplier if an accident is caused by faulty equipment.

Dr. Singh will meet Mr. Obama in the forenoon of September 27 for across-the-table discussions. They will then move over to the lawns for a media interaction during which some deals may be announced. The two leaders will then hold more discussions over a working lunch.

In continuing with India’s approach to talks with Pakistan, Ms. Singh gave no indications about Dr. Singh meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York. She said that due to the short time available on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, bilaterals were still being firmed up.

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