Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said charges that his government’s push for the contentious bill was motivated by his concern for American interests and corporations were “far from the truth’’. The bill was later passed by the Lok Sabha by a majority of 252-25 because of the BJP’s support. Singh’s defence was prompted by opposition speakers like the BJP’s Jaswant Singh who said the government was trying to “hustle’’ Parliament into passing the liability bill ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit in November. The PM said this was not the first time he was being accused of working for American interests. Singh said that just as his 1992 budget—then criticised as “made in US’’—had stood the test of time, history would judge the government’s steps to end what he called a nuclear apartheid imposed on India. “To say that this has been brought to promote American interests, to promote American corporations, I think, this is far from the truth,’’ he said. “I beg of this House to pass this bill with unanimity,’’ the PM said. Singh’s denial, however, also marked an acknowledgement of the larger perception about his being pro-America, especially since he had staked the fate of the UPA-1 over the nuclear deal with the US.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was crafted after the India-US nuclear deal went through in 2008. In order to facilitate nuclear trade with global companies it is necessary for India to enact the law. It aims to define financial and legal liabilities by operators, suppliers of equipment, vendors and government in case of a nuclear accident.
Why is the law necessary?
India is negotiating with four foreign firms engaged in making large nuclear reactors. All of them want a specific limit on liability to avail insurance cover. Though even the French and Russians want a law, there has been consistent US pressure for the legislation as two Japanese-US firms are also in the fray.
How does it impact India’s nuclear power plans?
India wants to rev up nuclear power production from 4,000 MW to 40,000 MW by 2020. Getting foreign firms to build mega units of 1650 MW and setting up 10,000 MW parks is key to this strategy. These plans were held up first by the Left’s opposition to the India-US nuclear deal. Then approaching 2009 elections made govt cautious.
What are its salient features?
What is “no-fault” liability?
This means victims of a nuclear incident will be compensated even without any fault being fixed for the same. The Bill fixes nofault liability on operators so that payment to victims is prompt and does not get entangled in legal tangles like in the Bhopal gas tragedy.
What were the controversies about?
What was the “deal” between the govt and BJP?
First the report of the standing committee examining the bill was mysteriously altered to link specific supplier liability to a written contract with an operator. Then Govt went back on an agreement to specifically state supplier liability irrespective of a contract. The bill in clause 17 (b) said an operator can pursue a supplier in court if a nuclear accident was the result of an "act of supplier or his employees done with the intent to cause nuclear damage". The use of the word intent was again seen to be a sop for foreign suppliers.
BJP and Left said "intent" meant making supplier liability contingent upon proof of deliberate act. Govt has dropped the word.