Indian Cabinet clears Nuclear Liability Bill

In a major development, the Union Cabinet cleared the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010, after bowing to pressure from the Opposition to drop a controversial addition that diluted the liability of suppliers for accidents caused by negligence

The Union Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on August 20, 2010, put its stamp of approval on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, clearing the decks for its introduction in Parliament. The date of introduction of the Bill in Parliament is expected to be decided soon at a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha. 

Government sources said Cabinet has accepted almost all the key suggestions made by a Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report submitted to Parliament two days ago. It is clear now that the operator cannot seek the right to recourse unless he has fully settled compensation claims of the victims of a nuclear accident. 

Earlier in the week, consensus on the Bill was virtually shattered with Opposition parties criticising the government for introducing the word ‘and’ between Clause 17 (a) and Clause 17 (b), a move they claimed diluted the obligation of foreign suppliers of nuclear equipment in case of an accident. 

Clause 17 (a) says “the operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right to recourse where -- such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing”, while Clause 17 (b) says “the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services”. 

Opposition parties feared that insertion of the word ‘and’ between the two clauses would dilute the obligation on suppliers of the equipment, in case of a nuclear accident. After a series of consultations within the government the word ‘and’ was finally dropped. 

The text of the Bill, which was examined by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology for over two months before it presented its report to both houses of Parliament, also addresses major concerns by recommending provision for “clear-cut” accountability of suppliers for any mishap involving an atomic plant, and raising the compensation cap from Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,500 crore, among other amendments. 

With barely 10 days left for the monsoon session of Parliament, the government is keen to pass the Bill. Early enactment of the nuclear liability law is crucial for operationalisation of India’s nuclear deals with various countries. 

Source: The Hindustan Times, August 20, 2010
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