External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Thursday said the government will not sign any nuclear contract with the U.S. that was against national interest.
Reacting to a report in The Hindu about the Attorney General’s recent opinion that Indian nuclear operators could waive their right of recourse against a foreign supplier in the event that an accident is caused by faulty equipment, he said, “Laws are framed by Parliament and nobody can overrule it. This is impossible. The government will act according to the law of the land and not take any decision which is against the nation’s interest.”
Speaking separately on background, senior officials insisted that there will be no dilution of Section 17(b) of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (which penalises foreign suppliers if an accident is traced back to faulty products or services).
On its part, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), whose queries on points of law regarding the applicability of the right of recourse prompted the AG’s opinion, issued a statement that all commercial contracts between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and foreign suppliers will be consistent with Indian law and that there was no question of the law being violated or diluted.
The officials said the DAE’s reference to the AG had nothing to do with the NPCIL-Westinghouse ‘pre-early works agreement’ likely to be signed next week.
“In fact, we have not talked about the liability issue with the Americans for over a year. The reference to the AG arose in the context of continuing negotiations with the French and the Russians,” a senior official said on background.
The assumption drawn from the AG’s opinion that this was done to cater to American wishes is “far from the truth,” he observed. “Whether you include the right of recourse in a contract or not is your choice under the law,” another senior official told The Hindu, adding, “The government has taken a decision, and we have told the DAE it has to be put it in.”
The DAE and government sources also weighed in on NPCIL’s move to give Westinghouse a token sum — said to be around Rs. 300 crores — when signing a contract in Washington later this month. The DAE said the payment would be for a limited range of pre-project services and would not bind NPCIL into a contract with the company for the entire project “without establishing safety and techno-commercial viability.”
The sources said the payment would be like a “small amount to the architect” but it doesn’t mean the house building contract will also be awarded to him. And NPCIL is well within its rights to make the payment without seeking Cabinet Committee on Security clearance, he said.